AS A CHILD growing up in the Riverina town of Leeton, Helen Esdaile remembers seeing the single, itinerant fruit pickers who’d gather at her local church on Christmas Day.
Knowing they had no families to go to, Helen’s mother would invite them back to their family home to share a meal.
The gratitude of these workers has stayed with Helen, who along with husband David, now co-ordinates a communal Christmas meal each year for Shoalhaven residents who have no family to share the day with.
This Christmas, 140 people sat down to enjoy a sumptuous Christmas meal and to enjoy the company of each other, and that of the small army of volunteers who helped make the day possible.
Under the auspices of their charity Australian Mercy, the Esdailes first opened the doors of their own home to 12 people who would otherwise have spent Christmas alone in 2008.
News of their kindness soon spread, and the lunch was moved to larger premises.
In 2009 25 people attended, in 2010 there were 50 and in 2011 there were 100.
The annual Christmas lunch is just one of the activities of Australian Mercy, which also runs subsidised grocery outlets at East Nowra and Bomaderry and assists individuals in a variety of ways.
But Helen says the smiles on the faces of those attending the lunch make all the work worthwhile.
“Christmas is a time when many people are celebrating and enjoying themselves, but there are also many who are not. We wanted to extend that joy of Christmas beyond just a select few to everyone,” she said.