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St Vincent de Paul Street Retreat

On Wednesday, 12 September, six Year 12 Siena Students participated in the St Vincent de Paul Street Retreat program.  The opportunity, open to school students aged sixteen years and over, allows students to shadow the Fitzroy Soup Vans for the evening.  The vans run each night and stop at numerous locations throughout the city, providing warm meals, sandwiches, hot drinks and items such as socks, underwear, personal hygiene products, beanies and blankets to those experiencing homelessness.  

It is both a humbling and eye opening experience to come face to face with people who are in such desperate circumstances.  Through smiles, conversations, laughter and the simple act of sharing food with each other, barriers between our students and these individuals diminished.  Vinnies aims to ensure that, through their services, the dignity of each individual is maintained.  

Siena students benefited greatly from this opportunity, reflected in their testimonies below.  The school program is exceptionally well organised, with students thoroughly briefed before they depart for the evening. We look forward to being more actively involved in this program in 2019.  

Student Reflections:

'On entering the Street Retreat program held by Vinnies, I was unsure of what to expect. I found that we were fully immersed in the evening and felt a greater sense of community hidden amongst the Melbourne CBD, between the students, other volunteers and those currently experiencing homelessness. I found the whole experience inspiring and felt a real generosity between all the people I met during the evening. I learnt from this experience that something as small as a smile has the ability to bring happiness into an individual’s day and to broaden the sense of community in Melbourne. I am definitely keen to take part in more volunteer work like this in the future!'  Melanie Myrtle 

'On reflecting on the opportunity to volunteer with the Vinnie’s soup van, the aspect that struck me the most was the invisibility of homelessness in our society. I have enjoyed walking these same streets with my family and friends and have never realised the sheer numbers in our city who experience homelessness, nor the difference both a nutritious meal and a human connection could make to someone experiencing homelessness. That a simple smile or look in the eye can make a difference in a person’s day and to their feeling of self-worth and dignity.  We learnt about a regular client of the service who took two buses and a tram and then rode his bike to one of the city stops, only to decline any offers of food.  He just wanted the conversation.  He followed the van to each of the other stops to continue the conversation throughout the night. It made me aware how overlooked and ignored people experiencing homelessness often are, and how invisible they must feel.  I met a man who, during his career, had made valuable engineering contributions to Melbourne.  He now experiences homelessness. I also met a woman who had fled domestic violence that night and was experiencing her first night on the street.  She had nothing but the clothes she was wearing.   Volunteering with the Van made me feel so grateful for everything I have and to reaffirm to myself to never take anything for granted as our lives can change in a minute.  I would encourage everyone to participate in this volunteering experience.'  Grace Oliver 

'It was surreal to drive around a less crowded Melbourne city with the Soup Van. The stark contrast of visiting the city's icons,  such as Federation Square and the Queen Victoria Market,  during a week night provides a completely different perspective of our society. I continue to reflect on the variety of situations that led to these people needing the support of Vinnies. Some were fleeing domestic violence or had experienced a relationship breakdown, while one man had been coming to the Soup Van for over forty years after being the innocent victim of a coward punch.  The experience working on the Soup Van was a rewarding reminder of life beyond school. The smiles, optimism and gratitude encountered highlights that even when lifes greatest challenges present themselves, we must continue to provide solidarity as the greatest support.'   Madeleine Harriss


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