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18 November 2020
Justin Brown (left) and Geoff Moore are volunteer drivers for The Salvation Army Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal.
Words Ruth Carr
As a suddenly single father, with sole custody of three boys under 11, Justin Brown never thought he’d have to rely on charity.
“I’d been a manager on a good salary, but my youngest boy was only two years old, so I had to give up my job. Suddenly I was on welfare. It was very, very hard. It was struggle street really.”
With no other way to provide gifts for his sons, or celebrate Christmas in any way, Justin turned to his local Salvos. “I went up to (The Salvation Army) Holland Park (Brisbane) welfare centre and a lady by the name of Eunice was running it. She offered to help me out with Christmas presents. They gave Beau his first bike, which was one of the best things that could have happened for him. I would never have been able to afford a bike.”
As well, Justin and his boys were invited to share in a Christmas luncheon at the Brisbane Convention Centre. Again, a wonderful gift he would not have otherwise been able to afford. “It was just great,” says Justin.
But reaching out for help weighed heavily on Justin, and he says he felt “very guilty”. As a way of countering his conflicted feelings, he asked Eunice if there was any way he could give back. “They always need people. So, she said, ‘Well, we would like a hand when the presents come in, in the bags; we have to sort them and then hand them out to families.’ So, that’s how I started to get involved. That was eight years ago.”
Now back working full-time, Justin takes up to two weeks of his annual leave to volunteer during the busy Christmas period. “I wanted to keep helping. And, it’s made me a better person for doing it.”
FRIENDSHIP FORGED THROUGH GOODWILL
One volunteer Justin ran into when he was seeking help at Holland Park was Geoff Moore. “Geoff was a volunteer driver and he would bring the [donated] presents in,” says Justin. “We got chatting one day and I said, ‘Maybe next year I can give you a hand.’”
From there, a great sense of mateship grew. Not one to mince words, Geoff says he doesn’t volunteer for the Salvos for the “fuzzy feeling”.
“I first rang in December 2006 when I retired. I said, ‘I’ve got a ute, I’ve got time, but I haven’t got any money. If I can be of help, let me know.’ And it, sort of, started from there,” he said. “I don’t think about it. I just do it because I enjoy it. As well as the camaraderie [of] catching up with Justin and everyone in the warehouse.”
Driving together every year, Justin and Geoff collect donations all over Brisbane, from corporate companies to retail stores, such as numerous Kmarts, which provide a steady supply of toys from under their Kmart Wishing Trees. “All the toys are brand new, there’s nothing second-hand,” says Geoff. “Sometimes we visit up to 10 Kmarts in a day!”
With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting so many families in 2020, Justin and Geoff are acutely aware of how not just the gifts, but their volunteering, assists. “People struggle at Christmas time, so many families struggle,” says Justin. “We [Geoff and I] like to help people and helping The Salvation Army is the best way of doing it.”
On Monday 19 October 2020, Kmart Australia officially launched the Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal with founding charity partner, the Salvos, earlier than ever before to support the increased demand of Australians in need, following a challenging year.
Ruth Carr is a national campaign manager for the Salvos.