Bev Lowe’s story began in a small town in South Australia. Her mother ran a laundromat and her father was a violent alcoholic with a hot temper. The family relationships eventually got to the point where police intervention was necessary to protect Bev and her family. The police flew Bev, her mother and her younger brother to the state capital, Adelaide, to get them away from the children’s father. They moved in with Bev’s grandparents, who ran a boarding house.
At the age of 10, Bev made two staunch resolutions: First, she would never drink alcohol. She had seen for herself the pain, heartbreak and irreparable damage that it can cause. Second, she would give the world her love, because she had never experienced love herself. Unlike fickle New Year’s Eve resolutions that are broken a few days later, she was determined to meet these goals.
But how could she give her love to the world? It was a question left mostly unanswered until many years later, on a rainy winter’s day in 1996, when Bev and her husband John were in downtown Perth. Bev noticed a group of homeless people taking shelter under trees in a nearby park. “Let’s go home and make some soup for them,” she suggested.
John was speechless. He realised that Bev didn’t mean this to be a one-time occasion.
It wasn’t that he was indifferent to such service. Quite the contrary. They’d fostered several children over the years and even adopted a three-week-old baby. They’d been involved in their fair share of community work. Bev had formed a deaf signing choir.
But everything was different now. They were retired farmers. John had worked hard all his life and had no plans to do anything in retirement, and he certainly had no desire to start up a food mission! He silently prayed that his wife would either come up with a different idea or if that failed, that the city council would refuse them permission to do what she was planning to do!
“When I look back to 1996, I’d been a Christian for 42 years,” John says now, “and I thought I’d been a ‘good’ Christian. But in reality I was like the priest and Levite in the story of the good Samaritan who did nothing to help the wounded Samaritan traveller” (Luke 10:25–37).
His attitude quickly changed as they began feeding the people in the park. “Instead of this work being the last thing I’d like to do,” he says, “it’s become the first thing I’ll do!” He and Bev went on to form a community organisation known as Manna.
Besides food, Manna also provides the homeless with items of need. Here, Lachlan (centre), one of Manna's young helpers, is giving away socks at a Perth park, in the middle of winter.
Today, Manna has fed the homeless for 20 years and the organisation is one of the largest providers of meals for disadvantaged people in the city of Perth. They distribute more than 90,000 meals each year, which include soup, a main course with a vegetarian option and dessert. More than 200 volunteers give their time on a regular basis to prepare and distribute these meals.
And that’s not all. In 2001, John and Bev discovered that many children in Perth were attending school each day without breakfast, so they began what they dubbed the School Breakfast Program. This project provides a healthy and substantial meal for students five days a week for the 40 weeks of the school year. In 2011 they also began a breakfast program for high school students. But it wasn’t just food that the students needed.
In 2008, Manna began providing winter school uniforms for students who didn’t have suitable clothing for the winter months. By the winter of 2014, they had given winter uniforms to children in 42 schools.
Manna has also been involved in several other projects, such as Christmas lunches for seniors, providing meals for other charities and even running Manna training programs for other states and countries.
“All this and much more is possible only by God’s grace,” John says. “We have had many miracles, learned many things and we’re still learning. It has been a wonderful journey.”
"bridging the gap with a helping hand"
PO Box 4371, Victoria Park,
Western Australia, 6979,
Cover image: Ben and John Lower (centre) at a local park, participating in their favourite post-retirement activity: feeding the homeless