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Tea set leads to a lifetime of care

Josie and Beechworth Corps Officer Captain Pauline Middleton getting ready for Christmas.
Josie and Beechworth Corps Officer Captain Pauline Middleton getting ready for Christmas.

I came from a family of 13 children and was the fifth youngest. We grew up in poverty in a family of verbal abuse and violence, but I hid it all from my friends.

For many years we lived in a corrugated iron house with no glass in our windows, mosquito wire and pieces of corrugated iron that folded down at night or when it rained.

By the time I was seven years old, I was suffering from serious malnutrition. Food was scarce in those days, and I would live on vegemite sandwiches and sweet drinks to fill up. My body and my teeth suffered from this.

It was a sad childhood for all of us.

One of my sisters died of cancer at the age of four. Our life was a constant worry about when we would be hit next. I would be hit for doing nothing wrong except being in the wrong place when my dad was in a bad mood. My brother lost his hearing in one ear as he was always hit on the one side of his head. He and I had a great bond during childhood, and we tried to protect each other. We are still the best of friends.

A ray of light

Every year it was embarrassing going to school after Christmas, as the other children were talking about what they received, and I couldn’t say anything.

One day I looked out my bedroom window to see a man in a uniform come up the footpath and sit down to speak with my father. He was from The Salvation Army. He was a wonderful person who did not judge and was there to make sure we had a Christmas like everyone else did.

That year, I received my favourite Christmas gift and have remembered it ever since.

A tea set similar to the one Josie received from the Salvos when she was a child.
A tea set similar to the one Josie received from the Salvos when she was a child.

It was a small tea set, and I loved it. That was the day I said to myself that I would make it up to The Salvation Army for giving my family a Christmas to remember.

After that, The Salvation Army started delivering gifts to us every year. It was so wonderful to receive the gifts and tell my friends what I got for Christmas. The feeling of belonging was, in many ways, the greatest gift of all.

And it was not only the gifts that made such a difference but also the hampers we received to make sure we had a wonderful Christmas lunch.

Usually, we had baked beans with mashed potatoes, but after The Salvation Army started delivering their wonderful hampers, we had roast chicken, baked potatoes, pumpkin, peas, gravy and for dessert pudding and custard.

Helping others

Over many years, I never forgot my desire to help others and pay back the Salvos. I finally started volunteering with the Beechworth Salvation Army Thrift Shop in May 2012 with [Corps Officer] Captain Pauline Middleton. Pauline made me feel so welcome that I have been there ever since and enjoy what I do to help out.

And while I love being busy through The Salvation Army, I also have many other projects on the go. Some of my projects over the past few years include a project making facemasks early in the COVID-19 pandemic to support those who were homeless.

In total, over 1000 masks were made. I have also organised knitting/crocheting of more than 200 sets of beanies, scarves and gloves for the homeless in Melbourne.

I am also part of a project making ‘dining scarves’ for older people that has been taken up by people all over the world. My latest project is to collect Christmas decorations. We never decorated our house at Christmas when I was a child, so I make sure people can do that.

My husband Brian and I have two adult children – Sophie and Shane. During COVID, we agreed not to buy big Christmas gifts anymore, as being together at Christmas is a gift in itself. A loving family, food on the table, and a peaceful Christmas truly is a gift.

Looking back, my life was hard to start with, but it is what you make it, and it is thanks to people who cared, like The Salvation Army, that I have a beautiful family that I love and a happy life.

Thanks to what The Salvation Army did in my younger life, I have spent my life helping others. I thoroughly enjoy helping others because I love seeing their smiles and the tears they shed when they realise someone cares.

* As told to Naomi Singlehurst

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