SPIRIT OF GIVING: Generosity abounds on the Central Coast, including Mary Mac's Place, where volunteers helped provide early Christmas celebrations for those needing a hand.
SPIRIT OF GIVING: Generosity abounds on the Central Coast, including Mary Mac's Place, where volunteers helped provide early Christmas celebrations for those needing a hand.

The true spirit of Christmas is on the Central Coast

IF YOU want to see the real spirit of Christmas in action, go no further than the Wyong Racecourse.

That's where the Samaritans will hold their 9th annual Christmas Lunch on the Coast.

Co-ordinator Karen Patterson expects to again feed and entertain upwards of 400 people on Christmas Day.

"It's a real buzz, a feeling of community - it's by the community for the community," Karen said.

"There's no criteria: if you are at a loose end on Christmas Day, want some company and to be entertained, come along."

The kettle is boiling from 9.30am for the early birds, but the event really kicks off at 11am.

There's food, fun, presents for all courtesy of Share the Dignity, Shoebox Revolution and the Samaritans and, of course, Santa, entertainment by guitarist Lambeth Bennett, carols and "unlimited smiles".

The generosity again this year, Karen said, had been amazing, with donations and more volunteers than needed to serve the meal.

However, she said, anyone with the time to go along and talk and listen to the story of others was welcome, and "that's the greatest gift you can give someone".

For Karen and her family, including her "elf" grandchildren, and the many other volunteers who make the day possible, Christmas Day is for giving, and Boxing Day, when they hold their own celebrations, is for receiving.

"I feel really lucky to be able to do this," she said.

To find out more, call Karen on 0438248114, go to samaritans.org.au/christmas or just go along to the Howarth St racecourse.

Also giving on Christmas Day will be the folks at Coast Shelter, who provide over 150 meals each day, including Christmas Day, at the Community Centre at 346 Mann St, North Gosford.

Guests range from those who are homeless or at risk due to loss of employment, family breakdown, mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues, to the socially isolated.

Phone 0243253540 or go to coastshelter.org.au.

But need continues well beyond Christmas, and Mary Mac's Place manager Catherine Pantehis said services will need to restock after the added festive demand.

Mary Mac's serves a hot lunch weekdays throughout the year to anyone needing a helping hand - recently feeding about 110 people per day, with over 200 at their early Christmas celebration.

Completely reliant on donations, it also provides washing and shower facilities, food supplies and links to other services such as Legal Aid and housing.

Catherine said every person seeking help had a unique story, with Mary Mac's providing friendship, comfort and support without judgement for those who are lonely, homeless or economically disadvantaged.

"It is a community here," she said. "Everyone is treated with great dignity and respect.

"It is always difficult to take that first step to ask for assistance, but Mary Mac's is a very welcoming place and once they've been here once or twice and get to know us and some of the volunteers, they become very comfortable."

Many volunteers are retirees looking to give back to the community, but equally, a larger number of clients are over-50s, particularly men experiencing financial crisis due to marriage breakdowns, job loss, mental health, homelessness or isolation.

Mary Mac's Place is at the Ethel Cox Centre, 100 Blackwall Rd, Woy Woy. It is closed December 22-January 2. Phone 0243410584 or go to marymacs@catholiccaredbb.org.au.


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