Mercy College Girls Go Shopping

Year 11 students from Mercy College in Coburg love the final weeks of school. Not just because the holidays beckon, but because they get to decide who gets what for Christmas at McAuley Care refuges and safe house. As part of the school’s social justice program the girls, working in pairs, fill brightly wrapped shoe boxes with new gifts.

The 80 girls go in a lucky dip to find out if they will “Christmas shop” for a boy or girl and what age. Over the past year, McAuley Care, Victoria’s only 24/7 safe house, supported 380 women and children. Of the 128 children, 65% were five years old or younger, 30% were primary school aged while only 5% were secondary school age. Ninety women and their children were supported at McAuley Community Services for Women's network of refuges.

The students fill the boxes with lovely presents that they hope the children will enjoy, despite being in a refuge or safe house escaping family violence.

“The girls absolutely love it because it means something to them to be making a real contribution to the community. It’s so popular that next year we will include the Year 12 girls in the project,” according to Jane Stiles, Year 11 coordinator. The project is optional to Year 11 girls who have to do it in their own time, but all the girls are keen to participate.

The social justice focus varies each year, but often examines family violence and the fact that some women and children become homeless after fleeing family violence.
The College and McAuley Community Services for Women also share a strong and important link- Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters have been involved in education in the Coburg district since 1886 and began McAuley Community Services for Women almost 27 years ago. Both strive to continue the mission and vision of Catherine McAuley.

“As soon as the girls start in secondary school here they begin to learn about Catherine McAuley and what a remarkable woman she was in terms of social justice and providing education and care for homeless women and children,” Jane said. “Working with McAuley Community Services for Women is a great fit for our school.”

“We ask the girls, when they are working out what to put in the box, to think about the child. Have they just had to leave their homes in a hurry? What would they want to take if they could? That has a big impact on them and the boxes end up with lovely gifts.”