Salvos Store role enriches Liona's life
16 January 2017
“The simple little acts of human kindness touch you and give you hope in knowing there are a lot of beautiful people out there in the community. That love and kindness makes us all richer.” – Liona Keneally, Salvos Stores manager, Wynnum
Tears flowed freely as the woman with two children accepted the Christmas hamper and toys. Having just escaped a domestic violence situation, she and the children owned little more than the clothes on their backs.
Manager of Salvos Stores at Wynnum, Liona Keneally, says: “For those children to go through that terrible trauma at Christmas time was heartbreaking, but then for them to know their friends were getting presents and they might get nothing, added further to their pain. So it was really wonderful that we could at least provide some beautiful toys and some really nice food for their Christmas.
“The mum was so grateful, but she was incredibly embarrassed, almost ashamed, so we told her ‘that’s what it’s all about. This is the place that you come for help’. I had been in a similar situation, so could tell her I completely understood where she was coming from.”
As manager for the past eight years, Liona says her life has been incredibly enriched by helping others. Having once owned an accountancy practice and then working for a major university, Liona was materially secure until a marriage breakdown and a series of setbacks left her almost destitute.
“I went from having a Myer card to hardly being able to afford to buy clothes in an op shop," she says.
Not knowing how to find help. Liona struggled on her own for years. Eventually, after building a friendship with the manager of another Salvos Store, Liona became a volunteer before being asked to apply to manage the Wynnum store.
“I love the job,” she says. “It gives me (and our team) the opportunity to reach out to people, even on a small level. At Salvos Stores, we are not just sales people; we interact, talk to people on different levels. You get to know about your customers, their families. We have some people who come in every day and they just love that human touch and care they get, that they might not get anywhere else.”
So, just before last Christmas, when Liona heard that demand for Christmas food was stretching the team at the local Wynnum Salvos Corps (who were organising 'Christmas Cheer'), Liona and her team decided they would try and make up an extra 30 hampers, plus toys.
And that’s where Liona’s local community Christmas miracle began. As she was just physically putting a sign in the store window to ask for donations, a local businessman (David) just happened to be walking by. Seeing the notice, he stuck his head in to ask what was needed. When she explained, he said to Liona, “Well, let’s go shopping!”
Liona laughs as she tells the story saying: “I was really cautious thinking I didn’t want to be too greedy. But he grabbed two trolleys at the supermarket that we filled and he paid for. It was amazing. I was just overwhelmed. And I couldn’t believe it. We had a lot of food! Really lovely, quality food!”
David went on to help sponsor a Salvos community Christmas event that enabled even more funds to go on 'Christmas Cheer' for those in need.
As Liona and two others arrived back at the store and were still unpacking the food, Liona says: “A group of people from another large local business walked in with boxes of really beautiful toys. I thanked them over and over for their generosity and kindness and brightening some children's lives for Christmas.
“I was honestly gobsmacked,” Liona says. “I was quite blown away by what happened that morning. And after that the community just kept giving us more and more.
“You hear stories of tragedies and sadness over Christmas, but on the other side you have these people who come out of the blue and give generously to help others. It makes a huge difference not only to the people who receive it, who have desperate need, but to people like myself and others who witness it.
“I now feel incredibly grateful and humbled to be able to have this job and be able to help others. What a privilege!”
By Naomi Singlehurst