IN deciding to help battlers get a decent feed, Albury orthodontist John Brabant was warned he had bitten off too much.
“People knocked me to start with, they said it was a stupid concept that was never going to take off and I said ‘if I helped one person it would be worthwhile’,” Dr Brabant said.
With thousands now benefiting around the country the proof is in the plentiful meals served by his Carevans.
The caravans from which the needy are fed are in Albury-Wodonga, Wangaratta, Griffith, Blacktown, Armidale and soon Tamworth.
They emerged from his concern at homelessness in the Twin Cities, which was sparked by a 2009 Border Mail piece stating it was easier to turn away than care.
“It was just reading that article,” Dr Brabant said.
“It was like an epiphany, that was what I had to do and I went out and did it.”
Now Dr Brabant has received an Order of Australia Medal for service to people who are homeless and to dentistry.
He hopes the honour will open doors to greater support for Carevan.
The charity, which has an annual budget of $80,000 to $100,000 per caravan, receives no government funding and relies on sponsors and donations.
It is the same story with his Sun Smiles oral health program aimed at preventing dental disease.
Dr Brabant would like government support to spread the program more widely and to cut spending on tooth cavities among children by preventative funding.
Carevan alone is a remarkable success with 300 volunteers involved, up from 150 originally, and other communities across Australia adopting the program.
Sydney-raised Dr Brabant doubts it would have bloomed without the caring attitude of Border folk.
“There’s a great sense of community and community purpose,” he said.
“I’ve been able to develop the Carevan project because of the respect there is for each other.”
Not that it was easy, what was to be the original van was destroyed by an accidental fire and there was suspicion from welfare groups.
“When other charities started to treat us nicely,” Dr Brabant said when asked what was the moment he realised Carevan was a success.
“To start with they thought we were opposition and I tried to convince them that many hands made light work.”
Dr Brabant wants Carevan to be a legacy.
“Way past when I’m gone I hope this community will be able to sustain it,” he said.