Volunteer Bil smiling from inside the Haeata kitchen.

Thursday 24 November 2022

Volunteer Bil

Every day at the Auckland City Mission – Te Tāpui Atawhai we are humbled by the generosity of our volunteers, Aucklanders who show up to serve people in need whether by cooking, cleaning, packing food parcels, or providing professional services pro bono.

Today we want to acknowledge one particular volunteer who has been showing up for the past 15 years.

Bil Vernon has been working in the Mission’s dining room, Haeata, since 2007. Every Monday morning, Bil arrives at 7:30am ready to prepare and serve food for up to 300 Aucklanders experiencing homelessness. That’s more than 3,000 hours of service.

“Volunteering is a major part of my life,” says Bil. “It’s a point of focus and a way of meeting other people, the clients and the staff and the other volunteers. It’s wonderful.”

Bil has a long and happy association with the Mission dating back 60 years. It began when, as a student in the ’60s, he lived in a central Auckland hostel owned by the Mission.

“My grandfather knew Father Doug Caswell who was the Missioner in those days, and they ran a hostel for young men in Grey’s Avenue called St. Francis’s House. They accommodated about 30 students, apprentices and other people had come into town to work or study, and I stayed there for a couple of years. It was a wonderful place to stay, they really cared for us, and it was great to have the company of other young men doing similar things. So that was a great connection.

“I worked (in IT) until 2006 when I stopped to look after my partner who had become ill. My partner died and it left me wondering about what I could do, and I thought that maybe I could volunteer at the Mission. I started by helping with Monday dinners and I have been here ever since.

“When the Mission moved (to temporary accommodation) I moved with it and then back here to HomeGround.”

Bil has seen a lot of changes during his time with the Mission, particularly the establishment of HomeGround, the glorious new central city hub.

“The change is like night and day,” he says. “HomeGround is so clean and professional and filled with all this lovely light. I notice that the clients are much calmer here than in the old place which was very rundown.”

HomeGround is a state-of-the-art building which includes 80 apartments with a shared rooftop garden, a health centre and pharmacy, and an ultramodern facility for addiction withdrawal services.

Bil’s most vivid memory with the Mission is of his first night. “The clients used to queue up outside the door and when I got there it was just a mob which was quite intimidating. I had to say, ‘Excuse me, excuse me, I’m a volunteer here for work’. When Wilf (a staff member) opened the door for me, one of the clients said, ‘Hey Wilf, he’s too old!’. And I was 65 at that time,” he laughs. “I’m 80 now and I’m still here.”

Bil likes HomeGround so much that he celebrated his 80th birthday – with 80 friends – in the function room here, a beautiful space with views stretching across the city and harbour.

“It was a great success thanks to the Mission and Wilf, Mahara and the team who did the set up and clean up. And the guests loved seeing the Mission.”