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Monday, 13 July 2015 22:13

Capuchins' Famous Friars' van expands work for homeless thanks to generous benefactor

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Friars Van150A generous benefactor gave Sydney's Capuchin Franciscans an upgraded "Friars' Van", allowing them to expand their ministry of distributing hot drinks and food, as well as listening, interacting and giving dignity to those battling to survive.

When an unexpected and extremely generous benefactor offered to give Sydney's Capuchin Franciscans an up-to-date replacement "Friars' Van" to distribute hot drinks and snacks to the city's marginalised and homeless, Brother John Nguyen had to make one important stipulation.

"When asked what sort of van we were after, I had to tell them it couldn't be too big otherwise it wouldn't fit in our garage," Brother John says and with a smile recounts how he had to rush out to the garage at the Capuchin Franciscans' Friary in Leichardt and carefully measure the garage's height and floor the garage to ensure whatever van was donated was the right size.

Donated by the NRMA, the Brothers took delivery of the replacement van this morning.

Specially fitted out and painted with their distinctive logo on each side, the van has space for the tables and chairs the Capuchins set up when serving free hot drinks to the homeless along with a large umbrella for shelter from both rain or sun.

"The new van is a 2013 Toyota HiAce and will take over from the 2002 Ford van we've been using for the past seven years," Br John says and jokes that the addition of the handsome van delivered this morning, Australia's Capuchin Franciscan community will be able to launch "our own hot drink and coffee franchise."

"Our old van is being driven to Melbourne where our community there will start their own Friars Van and take free hot drinks, snacks and chocolate bars to the homeless each Friday and Saturday night," he says.

Ultimately the Friars would like to see Friars' Vans operating in all Australian capital cities.

As part of the Capuchins' mission to serve the poor, the Sydney's Friars' Van is a well-known fixture at Catholic youth gatherings such as GraceFest, Vocations Expos and events such as SCENE (Sydney Congress Embracing the New Evangelisation).

But for the inner city's homeless, isolated and marginalised the Friars' Van represents much more.

Staffed by Capuchin brothers and youthful volunteers, the Friars' Van makes its way to Woolloomooloo each Friday and Saturday night where it parks in the same spot each week distributing free hot coffees, hot chocolate and tea as well as biscuits and chocolate bars to those in need. But above all, the Friars Van gives those on the margins a chance to come together to tell and share their stories, have conversations and to interact with others, and to connect with the wider world.

"When men and women gather around our van on Friday or Saturday, we are often the first people they have spoken to all day - or in some cases all week," says Br John. "For people struggling to survive there is little chance for interaction and social contact. But there is a real need for this and for them to have people they can talk to who are genuinely interested, and who listen to what they have to say."

By listening, interacting, making connections and caring for the inner city poor, the Capuchins Outreach Mission gives hope and dignity to those battling to survive.

In addition to hot drinks and snacks, the Friars' Van also distributes donated blankets, clothing and other essentials in a bid to make life a little easier for men and women living on the margins.

"Everything we distribute whether it is the coffee, tea or chocolate for hot drinks, equipment to make the drinks and the blankets and other essentials we distribute, it's all donated," says Br John and gives thanks to many people across Sydney for their generous support the Capuchins commitment to the city's poor.

"But when a man approached the van late last year and gave one of our volunteers his business card, telling us to get in touch if we were willing to accept his offer of help we never expected the offer to be a replacement van," Br John says.

The benefactor who set the wheels in motion for the replacement van insists on remaining anonymous, but it was a result of his offer to help that resulted in the NRMA gifting the Capuchin community their smart specially-fitted out Toyota HiAce.

Overseas on his Perpetual Processional Pilgrimage following in the footsteps of St Francis, Br John was not in Australia when the man approached the Friars' Van one evening in Woolloomooloo late last year. Sharing a cup of coffee with those gathered around the van during its regular Friday night visit, the man gave one of the van's youthful volunteers his business card.

Returning to Australia, Br John was given the man's business card and gave him a call.

"I thought the offer of help would be along the lines of a donation to help us stock up on supplies. But instead he offered to arrange with the NRMA to give us an up-to-date van to replace our trusty old 2002 Ford. This was so generous, so unexpected it took us totally by surprise," Br John says.

Now the replacement van has arrived. Br John and his fellow Capuchins along with the regular 18 to 35 year old volunteers,have spent much of the day stocking the newly-arrived van with supplies, coffees, tins of Milo, biscuits and all the other equipment needed, ahead of the van's first foray to Woolloomooloo just after 7 pm tonight.

For the Capuchins friars, not only does the Friars' Van provide a chance for the city's homeless and vulnerable to gather each Friday and Saturday evening from 7.45 until 9 pm to talk and exchange stories, but the staffing and running of the van is also an important part of the Sydney Capuchins' formation.

To find out more about the Capuchin Franciscan Friars, their mission, outreach to the poor and youth faith formation see https://www.capuchinfriars.org.au/

This article was first published on 10 July 2015 by Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese.