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Springfield can’t contain its generosity, raising $16k for the poor

Mother and two children with overflowing collection of recyclable plastic bottles
Changing lives: Sarah Marsh and two of her children, Flynn and Bonnie, from Our Lady of the Southern Cross Parish in Springfield, with the overflowing donations for the parish’s Containers for Change project. The parish is donating all refunds of recyclable plastic drinking containers to charities and organisations that serve the poor. Photo: Springfield Parish

PLASTIC bottles that would normally end up in the recycling bins of Springfield homes and businesses have become a tool for local Catholics to raise money for the poor.

Parishioners from Our Lady of the Southern Cross Parish in Springfield, on Brisbane’s west, with help from numerous local businesses, raised $16,000 for returning 160,000 plastic drinking bottles through the Queensland Government’s Containers for Change scheme, which offers 10 cents per refunded bottle.

But instead of keeping the money in the parish, which took out a large loan to pay for the building of a new church, the community has given it away to those who need it more.

Parish priest Fr Mauro Conte said when the Government introduced the scheme, one parishioner saw an opportunity to use the refunds to help charities and ministries that serve the poor.

“We could have used the money to pay off the loan for the new church, but we decided to give it to the poor rather than keep it for ourselves,” Fr Conte said.

The total $16,000 raised was donated to three charities – Catholic Mission received $8000 for its Ghana Church appeal, the local St Vincent de Paul Society conference received $4000, and Catholic grassroots ministry Blind Eye Ministries, which serves homeless people in South Brisbane, received $4000.

For parishioner Sarah Marsh, who is a mother of five children, the project was a chance to give back to a community that ended years of personal soul-searching.

“Initially when I was getting involved in the project, I had just finished the Alpha program and just wanted a way to give back,” Ms Marsh said.

Although she was raised Catholic, Ms Marsh said she “was a little lost”.

“I did the parish’s Alpha program and I had my life absolutely turned around,” she said. “I was struggling for a place to belong and I came out here to Springfield parish and I felt I belonged.”

To say thanks, Ms Marsh volunteered her family’s trailer and offered to drop off the plastic container donations to their local refund point each week.

She said the first donation she unloaded amounted to less than $50, but it wasn’t long until that number reached into the hundreds.

“The largest refund we had was for $507,” she said. “That was over 5000 containers that week.”

The parish has received a government grant of $8000 to continue the project in 2020.

The money will be used to buy a trailer, build a shed to store the donated containers, and buy new bins for collecting people’s donations securely outside the church.

Fr Conte said he never expected the community to reach such a large amount in refunds after one year.

“Now it’s becoming a part of the culture of the parish –  people have kept coming to the parish every now and then to donate,” he said. “What’s important for us is that it’s an offering, an ongoing routine for the poor.

“We are dreaming big, and next year hope to reach $20,000.”

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