A single mum from Warilla has created a food-giving charity to "pay forward" the kindness she received during her own desperate times.
Carol-Lee Carroll's son Jack was born with Down syndrome and a terminal heart condition and spent the first years of his life in and out of hospital.
During one of Jack's longer hospital visits the home he shared with Miss Carroll and his sister Keirra-Lee was sold, and soon the new owners wanted to move in.
The development sparked a downward spiral for the family, which was on the brink of becoming homeless when they were offered refuge by Wollongong Emergency Housing.
Miss Carroll said she found it "embarrassing" during her lowest days to have to approach charities for food.
"I found it very difficult and very humiliating to get food," she said. "First you have to make an appointment, then you have to go in, then they sent me to another place to get the food. I was dragging my son with me everywhere.
"I had gone from a stable relationship and being able to work, to being a single mother on the pension with two children and one of them chronically ill.
"At a time when you're feeling really low in your life I found it very embarrassing to have to ask for food on top of that."
Now in permanent housing, Miss Carroll created the Great Illawarra Food Train - or GIFT - to help other families experiencing hardship.
She calls for food donations via the group's Facebook page and collects them when Keirra-Lee, 11, and six-year-old Jack, a student at Peterborough Public School, are at school.
Miss Carroll is a full-time carer to Jack, who doctors say will eventually need a wheelchair and assistance breathing.
He needs help getting dressed and with meals, which are fed through a tube every four hours, with each feed lasting half an hour.
In the lead-up to Christmas, Miss Carroll amped up her calls for donated food and gifts, which will be distributed to clients of Wollongong Emergency Housing.
"They know all the families personally and their individual needs," Miss Carroll said.
Donations are being accepted at Wollongong Emergency Family Housing headquarters, 83 Kenny Street, Wollongong.