Despite rejection, roadblocks and even a serious fire, John Brabant believes things have all been too easy for his charity.
The founder of Carevan, a food service that operates in Lalor Park and around the state, was recently awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the homeless and to dentistry.
“I’m not religious but I’ve become a little bit spiritual, because I believe something’s guiding me in what’s happened,” Dr Brabant said.
“It’s been too easy. I don’t take responsibility.”
The orthodontist, who splits his time between Sydney and Albury, started Carevan after reading a story about homelessness and poverty in 2009. His idea was to make a van so colourful it would not only feed the poor, but also draw attention to their plight.
Dr Brabant’s plans hit a snare when the first van accidentally caught alight, burning down a Vinnies store with it, but the subsequent media attention helped his charity garner more support.
It has since branched out to Wangarratta, Blacktown, Griffith, Armidale and Tamworth, with a committee and other volunteers always ready to jump on board with each expansion.
Jeni Simmons was one of the founding members when Carevan came to Blacktown in 2011.
Like many volunteers she often goes above and beyond, such as the time she gave towels to someone who found a home but had no linen.
“It’s just nice to be able to help people. And they have such a great reaction,” Ms Simmons said.
Fellow volunteer Andrew Scott said it was great to see the line of people waiting for the van every Tuesday night.
"The first night we were here, no-one spoke to each other,” he said.
“Now the community spirit here is unbelievable. They look out for each other, they talk to each other, they share with each other.”
Mr Scott said the van has been at Lalor Park library every Tuesday night, “rain, hail or shine”, since they started six years ago.
The Blacktown team has 22 volunteers who work on a four-week rotation. The food is supplied by students at Norwest Christian College and Tyndale Christian School.
Further support comes from organisations including Salvation Army, Sai Lighthouse and Kellyville Anglican Church, as well as businesses including Baker’s Delight in Kings Langley.
Involving schools was part of Dr Brabant’s overall vision for the charity. He wants young people to not only cook for those less fortunate, but also take the time at least once to eat with them.
“The whole concept’s not about a meal, it’s about social inclusion,” he said.
“It’s about providing a sense of identity, and a sense of belonging, and a sense of hope.
“Principals love it in the schools because we’re providing an education to them about social responsibility.”
The Blacktown team is looking for more committee members, volunteers, schools and businesses to get involved so they can expand to other suburbs, including Doonside and Shalvey.
- Find out more or get involved: http://www.carevan.com.au/