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By Russell Bennett

“There’s always a tomorrow”.
That’s the simple, heartfelt message from Sue Johns from the Pakenham Op Shop in the lead-up to the Cardinia Community Christmas – a free Christmas Day lunch for all in the community, regardless of background or personal circumstance.
The lunch will be held at the Pakenham Public Hall next to the library on Christmas Day. Those wishing to attend need to register by close of business on Friday 15 December with either the Main Street’s Bendigo Bank branch, Terry’s Discount Store, the Pakenham Op Shop, or Living and Learning Inc.
Sue, along with great friend Win Reed, are two of the tireless volunteers who donate their time on Christmas Day to make sure no-one in the local community is made to feel left out or isolated.
In the weeks leading up to the event – which is sponsored by a range of local organisations including the Cardinia Shire Council, the op shop, and the Bendigo Bank – there has been a gift drive for those who attend the Christmas lunch.
About 200 people, including volunteers, attended last year’s event and Sue is expecting more this year.
She and Win are blown away that the Bendigo Bank stepped forward to get behind the cause this year. The Main Street branch has been inundated with presents – provided by customers, employees, and even those with no direct connection to the bank.
“That community spirit is just absolutely wonderful. To me, giving is everything,” Sue said.
Haileybury College has also stepped forward to support the cause.
“The bank has a gift tree, which is just fabulous, and the community has been so generous in putting gifts under it,” Sue said.
“We did ask for presents for the older generation (too) – things they can use.”
Sue said the ratio of those attending the Community Christmas in the past tended to be 60 per cent women, 40 per cent men. Every Tuesday and Thursday she visits Bourke Park near the train station to visit those doing it tough, and to put them on the registration list for the lunch.
“We keep the door open – we don’t keep anybody out, because we make sure we’ve got enough to cater,” she said.
“I even ask for extra (catering) because I like to make sure that people can take home fruit and vegies.
“We don’t put any guidelines or criteria on it because you can’t say to one person they can’t come, and then welcome another in. There’s no segregation there.
“It’s just a wonderful, wonderful day.”
The kitchen facilities at the Pakenham Seniors’ hall are utilised for the massive logistical exercise on the day, with the meat and the potatoes then transported down to the public hall.
“As soon as we found out about it we immediately jumped on board – we’re a community-based organisation and I don’t think anyone should be hungry or lonely on Christmas Day,” said Norm Davidson, the manager of the Pakenham Bendigo Bank branch in Main Street.
“It’s one day of the year where people should feel welcomed, involved, and part of the community. Christmas Day is one of those days, and I just take my hat off to the volunteers.
“We’ve got a collection out the front and we’ve been inundated with gifts from customers, non-customers, and staff. It’s just been absolutely phenomenal and it makes me really proud to be a member of this community. It seriously does.”
The Cardinia Community Christmas will be held on Christmas Day from 11.30am to 3pm at the corner of Henry and James Streets.
For more information, call 0405 212 954 or email cardinia.christmas2000@y7mail.com.

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