Grievance Debate: Mount Gambier Community Christmas Day Lunch

Thursday December 06, 2018

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (15:46): I would like to take this opportunity to speak about a special event that occurs in my electorate around this time each year, the Mount Gambier Community Christmas Day Lunch. It is an all-in effort by local volunteers, businesses and organisations, who put on a special event for those who do not have their own Christmas celebrations to attend.

The lunch, now running for nearly 10 years, is a celebration of community spirit at its best. All the 150 people who come to the lunch each year have differing circumstances. They might be elderly or have no family close by; they may be homeless, travelling through the region, or just lonely and in need of some company. Organisers pull out all the stops to give people a day to remember. Local businesses donate kilos of produce and goods to serve up. Florists and stylists donate decorations and table linen. Organisers waive their costs, and bus companies donate their services. Each year, the event is supported and kept running by the local community.

Behind the scenes are around 100 volunteers working to make the event a success, including Liz Rymill, who is coordinating the event for the second year this year. Everyone does their bit, no matter what their background or title. You might find a local top chef in the kitchen—Kirby Shearing has generously donated his time again this year—or a city councillor doing the dishes. The event plays out like a big Australian family Christmas. There are shared tables and plenty of laughter. Afterwards, volunteers play a game of backyard cricket outside for the kids and big kids, and guests go home with a take-home meal for the next day and a gift bag. As for the volunteers, they go home with the knowledge that they have made someone else's day a little brighter.

Liz says the event cuts through the commercialisation of the day and demonstrates the true meaning of Christmas. She says, 'It's an event you'd be proud to be at and proud to be part of.' There are so many stories from the event's history that will make you smile. One year, an elderly lady heard a radio program about the lunch and donated $6,000, enough to keep the event running for the next three years.

A few years ago, about 150 people were inside city hall, about to sit down for lunch, and volunteers were doing a final scout around the city streets to see if anyone needed a last-minute invitation. One of them came across an elderly lady sitting on her mobility scooter in a laneway. Confessing she had nowhere else to go, he offered her an invitation to join everyone at city hall. She sat down, ate lunch, happily chatted with her fellow table guests and left with a gift, some homemade biscuits and a big smile on her face. Before she left, the woman showed volunteers a two-day-old sausage roll in her basket—the Christmas lunch she was planning on having, sitting alone in a Mount Gambier alley.

Sometimes, volunteers hear about potential guests through the country grapevine. Last year, Liz heard about a gentleman who was going to be home alone at Christmas and sent a taxi to Millicent to pick him up and bring him to the lunch. After the lunch, the gentleman came up to Liz and said it was the best Christmas he had ever had. I hear he will be back this year.

Stories like these really sum up what the event is all about: it is about people giving back to make someone else's day special. Mount Gambier is a generous and giving community. Last weekend, 400 bike riders joined in this year's Limestone Coast toy run, collecting toys to give to families in need.

The City of Mount Gambier runs the Mayor's Community Christmas Appeal, with Mayor Lynette Martin, our new mayor, at the helm. This also encourages the community to give donations of toys and goods, which are distributed to local residents. Our local Kmart and Target stores run wishing tree appeals and the Foodbank hub located in Mount Gambier is currently running the 'Share what you CAN' Christmas food drive.

Not everyone can afford to give donations of money or goods, but we can all give our time. I encourage everyone to take the time to consider what they can give back to their community this Christmas. The ultimate gift is giving back.