9 December 2022

A Helping ACT hand for the homeless brightens their day at Early Morning Centre

| Genevieve Jacobs
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woman and man in kitchen - Early Morning Centre

Nicole Wiggins, who manages the Early Morning Centre, with Helping ACT’s Mohammed Ali. Photo: G Jacobs.

At the Early Morning Centre on Northbourne, there’s a happy hum and the delicious scent of chicken curry in the air.

We’re at Helping ACT’s monthly luncheon for the centre’s guests who are tucking into chicken, rice and gently spiced chickpea dhal. The meal is delicious and guests and helpers are enjoying themselves.

Hovering over the pots and pans with Early Morning Centre (EMC) staff and volunteers from both organisations is Canberra’s 2022 citizen of the year, Mohammed Ali.

Helping ACT, the charity he co-founded in 2018, is part of the Early Morning Centre’s Feel Good Feed program which gives local businesses and community groups first-hand experience helping the homeless.

They include those sleeping rough or couch surfing the standard definition of homelessness and others who live in government housing or private rentals where there’s very little to spare from welfare payments.

READ ALSO Giving Canberrans a helping hand at Christmas

Local businesses and community groups attend the EMC to provide, prepare and cook lunch and offer table service to guests including Frank* (full name withheld).

A former truck driver who’s survived three strokes, Frank’s proud to be talking and walking using his frame.

He says he’s working hard to regain his health and trying to steer clear of alcohol and cigarettes as he gets back on his feet.

The delicious home-made food and friendship offered at the EMC make that prospect a bit easier, Frank says.

Dipika and Ravinith help out with today’s lunch after Mohammed officiated at Dipika’s citizenship ceremony and told her about Helping ACT’s work. They felt the warmth of Canberra’s welcome and wanted to reciprocate, along with several others who have contributed this month.

Mohammed says the Helping ACT group feeds 40 to 50 guests at the monthly lunches and also runs a twilight barbecue for vulnerable residents who live nearby.

“I think we have found a very, very great friend in Early Morning Centre,” he says. “Number one, I admire their mission very much and also the small team that keeps everything running and makes sure everyone is valued here. That is the most important thing.”

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EMC manager Nicole Wiggins is grateful for any help the community can offer. Her own role entails everything from organising volunteers and making cups of tea to ensuring there are enough towels for guests to have showers.

“We have a lot of activities here,” she says. “A lot of agencies that visit, legal agencies, drug and alcohol agencies to work with our guests. It’s pretty busy.

“People are doing it really tough. So they need that helping hand to come in for a meal because it’s hard enough for them paying the bills, let alone putting food on the table.”

She says assistance from the likes of Helping ACT makes “a massive difference”.

“We were funded to extend the hours for our lunch program,” Nicole says. “But the lunch itself isn’t included so we rely on donations.

“To have Helping ACT come along and donate the food and cook is fabulous. It’s a lovely collaboration. And I think it sends a really nice message to the people who use the centre that there are people in this community who care.”

Helping ACT has other plans for December including packing 200 Christmas hampers for EMC guests, refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable families. The hampers will be packed at Ginninderry on 17 December and all helping hands are welcome. You can find out more about Helping ACT here.

Mohammed invites everyone to join in and help.

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