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Crucifying the Good Samaritan.

By a food van customer

The expensive advertisements in glossy magazines and on railway stations from Christian charities seeking donations to help the homeless and marginalized, with their use of teenage models posed to look hungry and forlorn, indicate exactly where most of that money will end up – with the advertising companies, administrators and managers that run those charities. For at the end of this long food chain, in the dining halls of the hostels for the homeless, the soup kitchens and the vans belonging to the Christian charities, the servings are meager and the food often of poor quality. Stale bread and cheap ingredients dominate the food that is often served by volunteers.

One charity that is an exception to the above is Just Enough Faith, a non-religious charity set up by its founder Jeff Gambin in 1993 to provide hot, nutritious restaurant-quality meals to the homeless and marginalized. Gambin, his wife Alina and a group of volunteers have been doing that every night for the last 16 years. The story goes that Gambin, when sitting in Hyde Park one evening dejected after an unsuccessful business meeting, experienced an epiphany when a homeless person offered him his blanket. From then Gambin, who had been a successful businessman and restaurateur, began cooking and delivering meals each evening to Sydney’s homeless, paid for out of his own pocket.

Up until a few weeks ago JEF was still feeding hot meals every night for between 200 and 300 people. Apart from the homeless they would feed the elderly, public housing and boarding house tenants, recent immigrants, the mentally ill and residents from the Christian run hostels who were still hungry. Gambin also organized an annual Christmas party, supplied blankets and clothes for the needy and provided untold gestures of genuine charity and generosity to many individuals, from giving out cigarettes to providing a homeless man with a return ticket to New Zealand to visit his dying mother. What Gambin set out to do was treat these people with the same respect that he would have treated the customers of the various restaurants he’d owned over the years. Gambin, who liked to drink, smoke and play poker machines, would prefer to hand out a twenty dollar note than a Hail Mary. This would be his undoing.

A malicious campaign launched with a front page article in the Sunday Telegraph on 20 April 20088 (the day before Jeff Gambin’s 60th birthday) suggested he misappropriated funds and that he was a con man. However, charges were never laid and the ATO gave the JEF foundation the all clear. The mud stuck and sponsors were frightened off, but the foundation, which by then had established an eight person board, continued to do its good work. At worst it seemed like Gambin was a sloppy bookkeeper and had his faults like the rest of us. This was rectified when the board took control of the financial upkeep of the foundation and Jeff was left to do what he did best.

However the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing which ironically oversees the running of charities in SNW, decided to appoint an administrator to search through JEF records to find evidence of illegal fundraising activities. On 20th April this year, once again the day before Jeff Gambin’s birthday, the administrator handed over the job of feeding Sydney’s homeless each night to the Exodus Foundation, a Christian charity owned by the Uniting Church which runs a lunchtime soup kitchen in suburban Ashfield. They would be contracted to do the job for two months at a quoted cost of $55,000 while the Dept undertook its investigations. The vans owned by JEF and the large supply of food from the JEF cool rooms and pantry were taken by the Exodus Foundation to their premises in Ashfield. To date it seems little of this food has appeared at the evening meal. Servings have shrunk and choices have been limited in line with practice at most Christian charities.

Church based charities such as the Exodus Foundation, the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and the Wayside Mission to name a few, are able to raise millions of dollars in the name of the homeless, destitute and marginalized for their organizations with exemption from the Dep Liquor Gaming and Racing’s fundraising license. This practice purportedly goes back to a ruling based on churches collecting donations by passing the plate.

Most of this money goes on salaries and administration, maintaining offices and cars for their managers, lobbying parliament and putting submissions to government departments for funding. Just like any other business! Indeed the Exodus Foundation is paying staff to cook the meals that JEF volunteers are dispensing.<,/p>>

The Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing claims that JEF is not a viable business. It was never meant to be, but unlike the billion dollar religious charities and successive state governments it was able to do what they could not do – give the homeless and the marginalized hot and nutritious good quality food and plenty of it to anyone who asked every night for 16 years.

If you don’t believe me just ask anyone living on the street.

 

 

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