My experience volunteering with Orange Sky Laundry

It’s hard to believe. The year is 2016 and although we live in the nation’s capital – the beautiful city of Canberra – there are still people living on the street, couch surfing and in their cars. It’s unfathomable.

Recently, Beyond Bank entered into a partnership with Orange Sky Laundry (OSL) and became a van partner bringing Dasher to Canberra. OSL is a vehicle for positive and genuine conversation through a mobile laundry service for the homeless. I was intrigued. Do we really have enough homeless people in Canberra to warrant such a service? I was shocked to discover that we have the second highest incidence of homelessness in Australia next to the Northern Territory.

My wife and I wanted to help and we wanted to meet people and hear their stories. When the opportunity came up recently, we jumped on the OSL website and registered to volunteer.

Our first shift was at St John’s Care that puts on a community lunch once a month. They also have a makeshift ‘supermarket’ set up so that families who are struggling can come and get necessities free of charge. They told us that the need will soon outweigh their ability to help as many people as they would like.

The people that used the OSL service while we were there were friendly and open. We spoke to one gentlemen who was very warm, a thinking man who was simply the victim of some unfortunate circumstances that had led him on his current path. My preconceptions fell away after speaking to him, he could have been me in a different life.

My wife had a long conversation with a lady who was extremely charismatic and likable. She told us her story with an openness that charmed us both and tugged at our heart strings.

Our shift lasted 2.5 hours. 2.5 short hours. But those hours changed us. We came away from the experience thinking we were giving to others – but having gained so much ourselves. We saw the friends of Orange Sky Laundry in a new light. Not just nameless, faceless, people sleeping under a box in an alleyway. They are people. Real people. With lives and stories so similar to our own, with a simple decision, poor choice or life circumstance leading them down a path they never thought they would be on.

And we looked at our own lives differently. Grateful for the family we have and realizing how quickly it can all disappear if you don’t keep your eye on the ball.

If you are like me, you are probably really busy and feel you would struggle to find time to volunteer. But I promise you, what you will receive in those 2-3 hours per week or fortnight will be worth the effort. If you can’t volunteer, I urge you to help out Orange Sky Laundry with a donation. Please go to www.orangeskylaundry.com.au. Helping others, helps ourselves.