Meet Chris, Ian and Victoria (the sheep) of Purple Dove Awareness Group and Food is Free.
They welcomed Theo and I to their home with (literally) open arms. We had never met before, but that made no difference. A few text messages and we are friends.
This would be the case with anyone they meet, I’m sure. In fact, complete strangers have benefited from their generosity for many years already. Things don’t always turn out the way you might predict.
We’ve come to The Summit, outside Stanthorpe, today to learn how to weave ghastly grey grocery bags into waterproof sleeping mats for those who are sleeping rough. Along with that skill, we’ve learned of the quite phenomenal work of Chris and Ian. If there is an hour in which they can help someone else, they’re probably already doing that.
Within a year of Chris and Ian’s marriage, Ian was diagnosed with prostate cancer and given 10 months to live. That was 10 years ago. Now, between treatments and surgeries, Ian and Chris run garage sales and market stalls and organise the markets at the Stanthorpe Showgrounds on the fourth Saturday of each month. The funds they raise are all sent to support both prostate cancer and breast cancer.
Not long ago, they set up raised garden beds, a lot of them, on their own property in which they grow a variety of vegetables. These are cared for by them and placed in a stand by the road at the end of their long driveway, not to sell, but as part of “Food is Free”.
“We don’t want people to feel bad if they need help,” said Chris. “When it’s like this, they can come past and take what they need without having to ask for it and perhaps feel like they’re being judged.”
And it’s becoming a cooperative part of the community. Someone left a note and a bag of miniature shampoos and conditioners near the veges the other week. They had a surplus and knew someone else might benefit from it.
There are helpers, too. Sometimes there are 10 or more people weaving bags into mats under the watchful eyes of Victoria, the mower sheep.
“Victoria was Victa,” explained Ian, “Then we turned her over and she’s Victoria. We bought her to be friends with out other sheep, but they don’t like each other, so she’s up here with us.”
Victoria spends her days being loved and fed by visitors – including Theo, mowing – obviously, and being followed by the cat. Wherever you find Victoria, the cat will be there, curled up comfortably on Victoria’s body, enjoying the pre-production, nature’s own, walking blanket!
Like me, you probably think that this is a pretty big undertaking for a couple who are, ostensibly, retired. It didn’t start with these activities and it hasn’t stopped with JUST these, either. Not at all.
In 2015/2016, Chris was part of Walk for Life. With Ian trailing her with their caravan and car, Chris walked around Australia for 12 months! Raising money for both prostate and breast cancer, Chris walked each day. They raised about $40,000! And that seems like it was just the beginning of the philanthropic story. As they travelled and stopped to sleep each night, Chris and Ian met many homeless people and those who were living in their cars; it’s more common than I realised. When they returned home, they decided to do something to help and it grew from there.
During the hour and a half I visited, Ian took two phone calls and this meant they were heading out to pick up a large donation of furniture as soon as we left, before a doctor’s appointment later in the day.
“That happens all the time,” Chris told me, “People know we help so they often ring us to pick up things like that. They also know to call us of they’ve got people who need something. We can usually put something together. Do you want to see the container?”
We walked past more garden beds, and Victoria and the cat in the shade, to unlock a newly purchased, roofed by Ian, container. This now holds all the goods that Chris and Ian can’t house elsewhere until it finds its home with someone in need. Shelves of blankets, toiletries, clothes, towels, appliances, furniture, knitted beanies, items for markets and garage sales and….loads of things, line the walls. All are totally organised so Chris knows she can put together a package with ease, depending on the specific need.
I’m sure there is more that I didn’t ask about or find out about, after all we were only there a short time, but I do know that these ventures need time and support. From what I know, Chris and Ian are unlikely to ask for any assistance, but if you’d like to see a little more of what they’re doing, encourage them, and possibly support their efforts to support others, I expect they’d find a need to fill. You can visit their Facebook pages below.
Thanks again, Chris and Ian, for your welcome, your hospitality and the great work that you are doing every day (and the zucchinis!).