Soul Café’s annual Sleepout for Soul event is returning this May, with an action-packed night of fun planned and a mammoth fundraising target of $175,000.

Last year, Novocastrian’s helped the organisation raise over $180,000. Photo: Sleepout for Soul.

On Friday, May 27, attendees can roll out a swag under the stars at Bolton Street car park or join the live event via Zoom as they ‘glamp out’ in their backyard or lounge room.

“All the funds go towards supporting the day-to-day activities of Soul Café … proceeds from the sleepout will cover the costs of this vital community service for five to seven months,” Soul Café general manager and event organiser, Matt Ortiger said.

“Soul Café is a compassionate community response to some big community needs and exists to support homeless, addicted, mentally unwell and vulnerable people in Newcastle.”

Ortiger said the night would include live music, fire pits, food, coffee vans and children’s games, like supersize Jenga.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to tour the Soul Café premises to learn more about what the organisation does for vulnerable people.

Established in 2003, Soul Café serves free hot meals to vulnerable people of Newcastle, providing 50,000 meals and 6,000 hampers annually. 

Soul Café also has a range of essential services provided free of charge, including pantry services, alcohol and substance abuse-based programs and drug, gambling and mental health counselling. 

Attending services include hairdressers and barbers, chiropractors, podiatry clinics, doctor clinics, job hubs and audiologists.

Soul Café serves free hot meals to the vulnerable people of Newcastle and has expanded to a range of essential services provided free of charge. Photo source: Soul Café

Ortiger said it was important for Novocastrians to get involved and support a local charity.

“Without financial support, Soul Café cannot meet the community’s needs … we’re not government funded.”

Last year’s Sleepout for Soul saw 351 participants raise over $180,000, allowing the organisation to continue serving the community and hiring its first social worker.

This year’s event has already raised $32,000 of the $175,000 goal, and 232 people have registered.

Soul Café has had an enduring impact on the lives of the people it has serviced, with local man, Marty, testifying to this.

“I started coming to Soul Café around 2021 when I was destitute and living out of a garage in an abandoned building in the Newcastle CBD,” Marty said.

“I was feeling very low, hungry and unwanted.

“I walked past Soul Café one day and saw people lining up, so I asked what it was and joined the line.”

Marty said the service provided him with blankets, winter clothes, meals and other food to takeaway. 

“Matt, the general manager, was chatting to me, and he asked me where I was living,” Marty said.

“He helped me get a referral to housing, and now I have my unit, which I am happily living in.

“Soul Café is one of the best services for disadvantaged people in NSW.”

He added that the service approach encouraged struggling Novocastrians to “do better for themselves”.

“This is my family now,” Marty said. 

Soul Café visitor Marty with a local volunteer.

Troy, another local man who suffered from substance addiction, visited Soul Café daily for more than seven years. 

Accompanied by his dog, Troy would come for meals at Soul Café and eventually became a valued member of the community.

Troy tragically passed away last year, but Soul Café members and staff said his impact on the lives of others had lasted. 

Soul Café has issued an appeal for the Newcastle community to band together and raise funds to support Novocastrians like Troy.

Sleepout for Soul attendees are encouraged to arrive at Bolton Street carpark from 6 pm, where a wide range of activities will be on offer before an address from the CEO and a charity auction will take place.

This year, former Newcastle radio presenter, Garth Russell, will show his support by hosting the Zoom event, and local artist, Crocq, will perform live music.

For the first time, Sleepout for Soul has a major sponsor covering the cost of the event, Insync Design and Building.

This will ensure that every cent fundraised at the event will go directly towards serving the needs of Soul Café and the vulnerable members of the community.

Residents are encouraged to register for the Sleepout for Soul, or people can directly donate to the initiative by visiting the Soul Café website.

Maia O’Connor