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Serving up the Christmas spirit in Melbourne

So far this festive season, senior mental health clinician Helen Andrianakis has already handed out over 2,000 care packages to those doing it rough across Melbourne. But there's still so much ground to cover

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A recipient of one of the care packages. Photo: Supplied

22 December 2017

For many, Christmas is associated with time away from work, and a home filled with family and friends enjoying a meal and one another's time. But for a portion of the population, the festive season is one of the most difficult times of year, and instead of being a chance to give thanks, it magnifies all that they have lost.

Senior mental health clinician Helen Andrianakis knows what this alternative picture looks like all too well. In her line of work, when Christmas rolls around, she hits the streets armed with donations and hands out care packages to those doing it tough.

"I did the hamper outreach this week and it was really heartbreaking," Helen told Neos Kosmos.

"I'm seeing a lot of sadness, a lot of disappointment, a lot of neglect, a lot of people are in pain. Lots of people are saying they've got nowhere to go for Christmas; they've got no family."

While there are services available such as the big lunch put on at the MCG, she says it doesn't compare to being in your own home, with your own people.

With the generous care packs put together by the ladies of the Philoptochos Society from Coburg Greek Orthodox Church, over a two-week period she has given out more than 2,000 hampers while on outreach.

The circumstances of those in need are many and varied, says Helen, and perhaps a reality that could be closer to home than many realise.

"The message I want the community to sit back and think is 'this could be us'," she urged.

"Every day that I approach a client I put myself in their position - that could be me. We could easily lose everything, because once upon a time, they were high fliers too. We're not just talking about people using heavy substances but people who have lost their homes and become homeless; they have lost their businesses and have nothing; or given everything to their children and then they're booted out of their homes; or, their wives and husbands have died and they go and live with their children who end up saying sorry I can't cope with you."

For those who are in a position to do so, making a difference in someone's life at this time of year can be as simple as going through the pantry or cleaning out that wardrobe you've been meaning to sort through all year, and seeing if there are any extras that can be given a new home.

"They can put together packs with anything from toiletry items, socks, clothing, tuna, drinks, nuts, little cheese packs, even toys for the children," she said.

While these daily items are by no means a luxury for the average person, Helen says that receiving these packages means the world, and above all, shows that they haven't been forgotten.

"I don't just drop them off and go away; I sit there and try and have a consultation with them, try and talk to them, ask them what they're doing on Christmas Day and tell them what will be open. I know I can't fix the world, but I make sure that at least with the things that I know are available, I can help out," she says.

While Helen admits to seeing some dire situations at work, nothing fills her with hope more than people's willingness to help, and so far this Christmas has been blown away by people's generosity.

"I just couldn't believe the amount of generosity that was offered through the Church and through their friends. The amount of support that was offered ... it was a delight."

The collection round for Christmas Day has already been completed, but for those wanting to donate, Helen will be doing another collection round on Boxing Day and again during the first two weeks of January.

To donate goods, call Helen Andrianakis on 0403 503 678.

* Helen also works with children with complex care needs battling addiction passed on in the womb through their mothers. To do her part, she has launched the Lean On Me campaign to raise much-needed funds.
"The money goes towards the little children, but also to the disadvantaged mothers and families who have children born with an addiction; we go out and buy what they need, like nappies, formulas, and sustenance," says Helen.
To donate, visit gofundme.com/lean-on-me

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