By Alex Brown
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
“The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Meet Bev. She’s in her 70’s.
Bev is a professional soup maker. She feeds the homeless, and has fed a whole bunch of hungry mouths in her time. The unwashed souls, dirty feet and lost blankets.
Her expedition to the park began with just the serving of soup (the great ‘soup kitchen’ cliché) – and soon all their retirement funds were spent. Almost two decades on, it’s now a three course healthy meal, with a weekly roast, dessert and always fruit and vegetables. The street people I’ve met say its the best free meal in town.
Bev’s mantra for feeding the homeless is this: Never serve these people anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable serving guests in your own home.
One day on the menu was slow cooked veal. When asked how it tasted, one of the regulars replied it was “ok, not the best I’ve had”. That’s how good the food is; the homeless people she serves (whom she affectionately refers to as “streeties“) get fussy now as the standard has been set.
Soup for the Soul
Bev and her husband John’s community organisation Manna is solely donation based; people donate food, leftover cakes or bread from their businesses. Some local companies provide cash and regular volunteers. It’s a well oiled machine with over 100 meals cooked fresh daily for the homeless, all run by volunteers. Six fresh, hot meals a week, Sunday to Friday. Their organization now supports over 3000 homeless and disadvantaged people each week.
Bev and John have dedicated the last 18 years to making other people’s lives more fortunate through kindness (first) then putting food in their stomachs (second), and this has clearly been their elixir of life. Bev looks way younger than her years and instantly strikes you (and quite hard too!) as one of those seemingly rare souls who can – and do – turn despair into a wonderful curveball of positivity.
These special people exist to change the world. Simple as that.
Her stories are heart breaking. But this woman tells them with a grace and poise that is so natural and infectious. She is so eloquent and affected by life.
Bev tells me that some homeless folks plan to commit a crime at the start of the cold season, as they know they’ll get three meals a day and a dry bed in jail. Young girls prostitute themselves for the night just to get a roof over their head and warm bedding. She also tells me some of these homeless people are dying – of AIDS, diabetes and many other health conditions. She’s seen men finish chemotherapy in hospital before going back to their beds in long grass, or toilet blocks, or boxes. She’s seen women give birth in public toilets. They sleep during the day as it’s a big ol’ dangerous world on the streets at night.
Mental illness and drug/alcohol abuse are disproportionately high amongst the homeless population. The majority of homeless are white males.
“If you had have told me that I would be calling junkies and prostitutes my friends then I would have said you were crazy”, Bev says. The streeties she’s known for years call her ‘mum’. Some of the kids she fed as little babies in their homeless mothers’ prams have become teenage girls before her eyes.
One of my ex-streeties is now 16. This young lady ran away from home and began to sell herself because [quote] “Mum’s boyfriends used to violate me all the time, so I may as well get paid for it.”
One day she was held in custody. I received a call from her and helped her out with some clothes, bras and underwear. Now every time we’re together she will tell strangers: “This is my mum and she saved my life”.
Bev is unforgivingly proud when she says this.
For some, giving small amounts of love or just a touch is like turning on a long burnt out light bulb behind their eyes. I try to hug my streeties as much as I can. Many can’t remember the last time they were touched out of affection. We’re a social species. Everyone needs this human contact.
What I take from meeting Bev is this: the key is in the detail… from the school programs she runs, to providing uniforms to underprivileged children, to the elderly parties she organises, right down to providing flowers for poor peoples’ funerals. The need to put care into the detail is perhaps her way of breaking through the heavier aspects clouding the issue of poverty; the crime, drug abuse, its impact on children. She explains that children can hear so much at night, gunshots and rape, violence and screaming, and then they are expected to go to school and be “normal”. Bev knows this because it was a similar environment to which she herself was raised in; her father was a violent alcoholic.
Loan sharks will ‘take’ people’s children as payment. Grandma sits in the bathroom, putting the kids to bed in the bathtub, because it is the only room she can properly protect if someone comes for them. These kids are so used to being groomed that of course they don’t trust anyone.
By the age of 10, Bev had the resolve for two things: to never drink alcohol and to give the world her love because she herself had “never felt loved”.
Serving Up Raw Humanity
In the ‘first world’, which is so visibly detached from emotion and the intrinsic link to the Earth and nature, Bev appears as an angel, strategically placed to bridge the gap between humanity and that deep connection to Mother Earth. Maybe it is her trust in the universe that life does not have to be fair, but it can be good. She has worked on the land, and knows what it takes to help make things work when life factors (and in a farmers’ case, the weather) get beyond a person’s control.
For a long time after meeting Bev, I couldn’t shake the impact she had. The imprint she left on me with her all-encompassing personality crushed my soul in such a strong (but good) way; she hit me in a way that no one else in this world ever has. You can’t go back from that.
So now, every Wednesday, I head to the park to help give out cake. Or cordial. I have now been lucky enough to meet these people who many in our society see as ‘crazies’. The man with the scar in the shape of a smile across his cheek, the old bearded chap with the dirty pet toy dog, the junkies, the downtrodden. Many have had love, and lost love, many have cried and then felt nothing. Most have sold parts of their souls for a fraction of what they were worth. But for the majority, they are polite and smile, and say thank you. They have a laugh with you and look up from, at times, shy or vacant eyes. And I think of the tears that glistened in Bev’s eyes as we said goodbye.
This is raw humanity, and this, folks, is exactly how the world gets changed.
So what’s my lesson? Bev has introduced me to a world full of crazy, toothless, cackling, hairy friends (Ok so they’re actually not at all like the stereotypes) who notice when I can’t make a week and tell me they’ve missed me. Probably as much as the meal they’re given, they enjoy having someone look them in the eye, accept them as equals, and listen to them. My afternoons in the park never fail to bring me back to Earth if I’ve had a bad day and my mind is stuck in the associated “issues” of our own self-important 9-5 existence.
We have a lot to learn from this.
About Manna Inc.
If you are keen to donate or help out as a volunteer, hit up Manna: www.mannainc.com.au
For more information, or inspiration on starting a similar project in your community, visit www.mannainc.com.au and Facebook.com/MannaInc
About the author:
Former Perth scientist Alex Brown now manages her time between writing for FLINT Magazine, teaching yoga and playing drums for indie-folk group ‘The Little Lord Street Band’. A career change was in order when Alex became jaded with modern medicine in the way that it disconnects mankind from nature’s offerings.
Alex laughs, loves, travels and tries to foster good in everything she does. After a recent stint in India and Indonesia, she realized that yoga and writing has the powerful ability to educate, empower and inspire. She approaches this with lightness, humility and sometimes, red wine.