SOME of Brisbane’s homeless call her “Santa”, but Sr Salvacion Bunao likes to think of herself just as a nun serving the vulnerable, inspired and challenged by the Pope.
The Franciscan Immaculatine Sister, who works alongside the Capuchins at South Brisbane, has been personally delivering food and good cheer to vulnerable members of her community, including elderly parishioners, families and the homeless, twice a week throughout the pandemic.
She said the ministry was a response to feedback from their elderly parishioners, who were feeling isolated because of the strict social isolation measures in place at the beginning of the pandemic.
Many of the elderly had been attending another ministry of the South Brisbane parish, which provides guests with a free meal.
“Originally we started this five years ago for the St Francis Table ministry to the elderly, but right after the lockdown we started to reach out more to our elderly parishioners, families who are really vulnerable, the homeless,” Sr Bunao said.
“The local community is really in need of more support so we said they are affected emotionally, mentally, financially, so we’re sort of giving them more love, care and compassion.”
That love, care and compassion begins with a hot meal that is made “from scratch” out of donations.
“We cook anything, with whatever providence we receive, whatever donations we receive,” Sr Bunao said.
“So out of scratch we just make a full meal for them, a main course, soup, dessert and a little chocolate for them each week.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Sr Bunao was preparing the meals and delivering them on her own, but over the past few months has built a steady army of ten volunteers, including postulant Isaac Webb who joined the Capuchins on September 2.
Sr Bunao said more were welcome to join the team.
While the majority of her patrons are parishioners, Sr Bunao said she cooks enough food to offer the homeless a free meal during the week too.
“Once a week I drive around South Brisbane, and under the bridge or sometimes near Hardgrave Road, sometimes they’re walking around there, so whenever I find them on the street I give them something to eat,” Sr Bunao said.
Once a homeless person approached her for money, but Sr Bunao said she could only offer them meals.
“And they were so happy, because they said, ‘I prayed to God that someone will give me some donation so that I could buy my lunch and here you are, you give me complete meals’,” she said.
Her noticeable grey habit with Marian blue trim certainly turns heads on the streets.
Some of the homeless have nicknamed her ‘Santa’ because “they said they never had nuns before who were going around with meals”.
“And I said, ‘During this pandemic, the nuns should go out because the pope said we have to go out of our comfort zone and reach out’,” Sr Bunao said.
The ministry has had a positive effect on the community to the point that people are paying it forward to their neighbours.
“When I deliver to someone, they see to it their neighbours next door, also secures something to eat,” she said.
But it’s not just the parishioners who are being blessed.
After a Sunday morning Mass last month, Sr Bunao was greeted by a homeless man holding $40 in his hand.
She knew the man from a coffee ministry at the South Brisbane parish.
“We had the coffee ministry with the Capuchins in South Brisbane, and we provided whatever he needed, warm clothing, blanket, and a coat from the Order of Malta,” Sr Bunao said.
“He was so happy that he got the help from us, and he said ‘I promised to myself that whenever I get some money I will save it and give back to you’.”
The $40 in his hand was the money he had saved to give back to the Sisters.
Sr Bunao said the ministry epitomised a quote attributed to St Francis.
“I was inspired by the thought of St Francis saying, ‘Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible’,” she said.
“It’s really inspiring that we started without knowing that it would really grow.”
For more information about the Sr Bunao’s parish ministry or to volunteer, contact the South Brisbane parish on (07) 3844 2744.