GALLERY: DENNY Foundation's festive lunch

MERCURY SERIES - Making A Difference

When Lauren Purcell was a child, on Christmas Day her mother used to invite people around who would otherwise not have anyone to share a meal and the occasion with.

Not long after she became an adult she lost her 25-year-old brother Dennis to a mental illness.

That prompted her parents John and Margaret Purcell to establish a foundation to help others, particularly teenagers and young adults, deal with everything from loneliness to the pressures of life.

It is also committed to helping to relieve poverty and provide support and advocacy to individuals and families affected by mental illness, depression, drug and alcohol addiction and loss by suicide.

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At the time her father was ill and  has fought a constant battle with his health ever since.

But that has not stopped the Purcell family’s mission to make life a little easier for  others in times of need.

The DENNY Foundation story shows how out of tragedy can come something that brings hope and joy to others.

The foundation the family established presently helps more than 500 people a week with the support of many businesses and volunteers.

It does many things, such as provide meals to people in all kinds of circumstances. A fleet of StreetBeat outreach vans help street kids, the homeless, the mentally ill and people who just need a listening ear. Not one single person involved in the DENNY Foundation’s work takes a wage. It is that spirit of giving that for the last three Christmases has seen the Purcells and a team of 25 volunteers spread some festive cheer.

It helps people in many different situations, ranging from those who, for whatever reason, might not otherwise have anyone to share the day with, to those who cannot afford to put a nutritious meal on the table or buy gifts for their children.

Ms  Purcell said for her four young children the experience was better than anything she could wrap up and put under a tree.

‘‘This makes our Christmas,’’ she said.

‘‘My children get to meet so many people and make new friends. They love it. Mum used to invite families around who didn’t have family and friends nearby at Christmas and this is something we had talked about doing at the DENNY Foundation for years.’’

Bill O’Neill enjoyed attending the lunch so much last year he returned, as did Albert Hayes.

The two men said without family and friends nearby it was good to spend some time with and share a meal with other people. 

And they particularly enjoyed watching the excitement on children’s faces when Santa arrived to hand out gifts.

‘‘I am a member of the Warilla RSL and I consider it a privilege that we have these people here doing this for us and the community,’’ Mr O’Neill said.

‘‘It is so good to get to share Christmas with other people.’’

Mr Hayes described the four hour event as ‘‘very exciting’’.

The DENNY Foundation hosted 113 people at the lunch on Wednesday.

Margaret Purcell said they could not have done that without generous business and community support. The Warilla RSL Sub-Branch provided the venue free of charge and strong  corporate support was significant.

RSL sub-branch executive team members Don Briggs, Barry Young and Allan Hurrell said they had done so each year  because it was such a great community event and a great way to share the spirit of giving.

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