ALREADY heroes to more than 100 people sleeping rough in the Penrith area every night, Emu Plains couple Lana and Roger Borg have now been recognised as NSW finalists in Australia’s Local Hero Awards.
The couple, who have seven children and three grandchildren, serve more than 400 home-cooked meals four nights a week with the help of a growing band of volunteers.
‘‘Let’s put it this way, I don’t cook — I hate cooking. I now cook for 100 people every week because I’m so inspired by what they do,’’ said one of those volunteers, Kylie Wallis, of Werrington County.
‘‘I came across them on Facebook ... I read she [Lana] literally took her Ugg boots off and gave them to a [homeless] man with cold feet.’’
Having now met Mrs Borg, she’s not at all surprised.
‘‘I don’t know what it is about them — they just hit a nerve with with me, and do all the time,’’ Ms Wallis said.
‘‘Let’s put it this way, I don’t cook — I hate cooking. I now cook for 100 people every week because I’m so inspired by what they do’’Kylie Wallis
It was only last year the Borgs opened up their hearts and their kitchen to feed people on the verge of homelessness or sleeping rough in Penrith, so to be recognised as a Local Hero Award finalist is overwhelming, Mr Borg said.
‘‘You don’t expect things like that; we’re just happy to do what we do,’’ he said.
Said Ms Wallis: ‘‘They are just so humble. They don’t see just how amazing the things they do really are. I say this all the time, I’ve never been inspired, as they have inspired me, to get up and help make a difference.’’
She said she has met people along the way who were too afraid to ask for help from friends and relatives, who have gone on to seek help for mental health difficulties, for example, after meeting Mrs Borg.
Mrs Borg said of the people they help: ‘‘I would want the same thing if I was in their shoes.
‘‘We have seen patrons go through really tough times and have been with them on their journey, helping them along the way through rehab, detox, family courts, to the point where they have made it through the other end ... back in touch with family, off the alcohol and in their own place.
‘‘Nothing can compare to the feeling of knowing that if it wasn’t for us, in some cases, they wouldn’t still be walking this earth.’’
The Borgs’ charity Mama Lana’s Community Foundation also provides toiletry packs, clothing and blankets, take crisis calls from families and work with local authorities to help people in dire need.
‘‘Nothing can compare to the feeling of knowing that if it wasn’t for us, in some cases, they wouldn’t still be walking this earth’’Lana Borg
‘‘Not all volunteers serve [food] under the [Allen Place car park] bridge,’’ Mr Borg said. ‘‘Some are behind-the-scenes, some just make sandwiches.’’
Each night they see new faces, that includes new volunteers.
‘‘Some of the schools are jumping on board, for Duke of Edinburgh’s, some are doing community hours,’’ Mr Borg said.
The inaugural street count of rough sleepers in Nepean-Blacktown, held in 2010, identified 503 people sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation.
Mrs Borg said she knew of only eight people locally who were chronically homeless.
‘‘They have been homeless for many years and live by the river, in the bush, are train travellers or live in their cars,’’ she said.
Mrs Borg said the service needs at least $90,000 to open a drop-in centre.
‘‘We need to see more mental health, detox and rehab facilities [in the Penrith local government area], as this seems to be the hardest to get our patrons in to, with support networks set up to help them when they are released from care,’’ Mrs Borg said.
‘‘There also needs to be more affordable housing. The waiting list for housing is at somewhere like nine years.’’
■ NSW Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Local Hero Award recipients will be announced on November 16 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. Recipients for the national awards will be announced in Canberra on January 25, 2016.