Meet The Volunteers Who Feel Blessed To Serve
Volunteering is the gift of giving – just ask the legion of warm-hearted Aussies who roll up their sleeves to help others.
Counter-intuitively, perhaps, they are the ones who end up feeling like they are on the receiving end.
Take, for example, two generous souls in western Sydney who have made it their calling to help feed and care for the needy – Len Cruz of Blacktown and Terri Sebastian of Toongabbie.
Their specialty is making people feel welcome – and well fed.
But for every tummy they fill, they believe they receive an equal measure of nutrition – for their own souls.
To mark National Volunteer Week which ran from 18-24 May, both spoke of the joy they feel in helping others.
“I am the one being rewarded,” said Terri Sebastian, who has been feeding the homeless at Blacktown every Saturday afternoon for the past two years.
“I see it the other way around. For me it’s a gift and a pleasure.
“It’s not serving them, it’s being with them.
“This is what loving your neighbour is all about – being at one with the world.”
The 73-year-old coordinates a roster of seven teams of up to 10 people, including many family groups, who take turns cooking and dishing up healthy meals for up to 40 people. Many of the volunteers are pensioners and older people.
She was adamant she should not be singled out, saying: “I don’t want to be the star of this, please. We all do it and everyone feels exactly the same as I do.”
Terri also volunteers at Mary, Queen of the Family Parish in Blacktown and has been involved in the World Day of Prayer linking with other Christian churches in Blacktown.
She is used to working hard for others, having juggled two jobs while raising three kids after her husband suffered a stroke in his 50s.
She had grave doubts at first whether she was up to the task of feeding the homeless.
“I had never done it before but with the Lord’s guidance I accepted it,” she said.
“I prayed hard and I got my answer in my own way.
“I want to slow down but I also want to be there (for others). I always wanted to help the elderly who are alone, which I am now myself.”
Marilena (Len) Cruz of Marsden Park calls Blacktown “my beloved community” and St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown “my second home”.
She has been organising and serving morning tea after Sunday 10am Mass for over 20 years, and devotes around five hours a day, seven days a week to volunteering for a number of causes.
She helps with Diocesan social activities, helps migrant groups, worked with the Loaves and Fishes food campaign and is an active member of the Sydney Alliance group working to “advance the common good”.
She also serves as a support person for the Cancer Council, working mainly with women suffering breast cancer.
The 68-year-old Filipino-born teacher worked in Nigeria for six years before coming to Australia and raising her son Jeremiah and daughter Marife with her late husband.
She makes no bones about being a victim of domestic violence and draws on her own experience to help others in the same position.
“I don’t keep it a secret,” she said.
“I tell them you don’t have to suffer. You should not be taking it. Don’t ignore it. It’s not going to end by itself; it’s going to carry on. Do something.
“I love linking up with people. When I see a person smile, touch hands (in pre-COVID days) and say thank you, that’s a big help for me.
“I say to Jesus thank you for making me an instrument.
“I enjoy volunteering,” she said.
“I cannot imagine myself staying at home doing nothing.
“As a community we have to reach out to people.
“If you have any talents or abilities, reach out and share them.”
*The One Meal service in Blacktown carried on even through the height of the Covid-19 lockdown, missing just one week.
Volunteering Australia, the body representing Australia’s estimated 5.8 million volunteers, said: “At this uncertain time we feel it is more important than ever to recognise and acknowledge their generous contribution.”
Around 5.8 million Australians, or 31 per cent of adults, were volunteers in 2014, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data. The value of their work was last estimated in 2006 at $43 billion.