It’s a Wednesday afternoon in the Australian city of the Gold Coast, and Cyrus Mollaian opens the door of his car and starts carrying large containers of food to a nearby table that he and some friends have just set up in a park near a City Council building. He starts lining up takeaway containers of food along the table, while someone else starts stacking secondhand clothing and other goods at the far end of the same large table. A crowd of people start to gather around the table, and Cyrus and his friends greet some of them as if they hadn’t seen each other for a while. Some take their food and sit under a tree to eat alone, while others eat their food while mingling and conversing as you would at an event or function. It’s clear that some of those gathered are less fortunate than others and have been sleeping rough, however the humming of conversations and laughter quickly wash away any obvious signs of this, and a spirit of fellowship and friendship prevails.
Here on the Gold Coast, Cyrus has been setting up tables of food for those in need every fortnight for the last 12 years rain or shine – and he hasn’t missed a beat.
I thought it would be good to talk to Cyrus about this long-standing initiative, so I asked him a few questions about it while I was at one of the Wednesday dinner events. I also chatted with Sally Michaels, one of the regular volunteers who’s been helping out over the last several years, and here’s what they shared:
Baha’i Blog: Hi Cyrus and Sally. Can you please tell me what happens here every second Wednesday evening?
Every second Wednesday for the past 12 years, we come and share food with others. Sometimes we do this in a park and sometimes in a community centre, but I set up my own non-profit organization called “The First Step Foundation” so I could meet the health regulations and have insurance, but I don’t accept money from anyone and I just do this as my service. Our aim is not to teach the Baha’i Faith, but of course over the years this naturally comes up as I’m a Baha’i, and I’ve given out some books and some have attended some of our Baha’i events and gatherings. You know the Baha’i Faith is for everyone.
As Cyrus mentioned, every two weeks on Wednesday evenings, we meet up here and offer food and clothing for anyone in need. But what happens every fortnight is in reality a gesture of friendship, kindness, and love. A gesture that reaches out to the community in a practical way, to help people move through what is often a very difficult time in their lives. Many people don’t realize this, but the Gold Coast has around 2,000 people that are homeless. Some say that many of them are “invisible”, but they’re not. They’re not invisible. They’re very visible and some people are experiencing homelessness for the first time, and we have really witnessed this since COVID. Over the 12 years we’ve been doing this, we have not seen this problem diminish. We’ve learned that homelessness is complex. There’s no easy solutions to this, but it’s a stubborn problem that is resisting many policies that I’m sure have goodness at the heart of these policies and actions, but unfortunately they don’t seem to be transferring into change.
Baha’i Blog: What made you decide to do this, Cyrus? Can you tell me how it started?
12 years ago I had a Baha’i meeting at my home, and one of the Baha’i readings was about helping those in need, and we started talking about homelessness and the homeless. I started thinking about what I could do, and so the next day I started walking around and talking to the homeless. Slowly over time I kept doing this and told people to come to a certain place at a certain time to get some food and slowly they started coming. You know Abdu’l-Baha said the best form of teaching is through action. No one cares at first that we’re Baha’is — the first thing is friendship. Later on, I’ve been asked more about it, and what its principles are, but the main thing is friendship.
Baha’i Blog: You’ve been doing this for 12 years. Consistently. What keeps you motivated? What keeps you going and able to continue to do this year after year?
I promised Baha’u’llah. That’s it. About 11 or 12 years ago I had a health problem and almost died and I promised Baha’u’llah I would serve others, and that’s it, I’m sticking to my promise. Honestly I look forward to this each time. I can’t wait for it to be Wednesday. I love it! I feel like I’m flying when I’m doing this! When I come home afterwards I’m full of energy for at least the next 24 hours. I hope others will continue this and can learn from this and carry it on. It’s truly special.
What keeps me coming is the idea that no one really needs to be suffering the way some people have been suffering. And it’s the human-to-human contact as well. I really love the idea that one day, this will be a part – a very small part perhaps – of transforming our community through action. These actions have love at the base of it all. And they have the the gesture of creating bridges and trust from human to human. So what I invest in, what I take away from each evening is the idea that this is part of community building. I love living on the Gold Coast, and I see this as part of raising a truly “golden” place to live.
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope people who come to eat gain from the experience?
It’s not about the food really. It’s about the friendship and the love. The unconditional love. I want to give that love that Baha’u’llah says we should give. Of the thousands of things Baha’u”lah tells us to do, if I can do just this one thing, I want to do it. Many others have come to help once or twice here and there, and that’s great, but this is not something I’m going to just do once or twice, we need to be consistent. Consistency is important.
We treat everyone as our guests. And also we’ve been consistent for years, so the beautiful thing about the consistency of what we’re doing is that many people have become like our family. There’s continuity with the stories that we share and we tell each other, and that’s really important when so many do not have family. So we treat everyone as beautiful human beings. As noble human beings. And they respond. Many are quite broken. Many have issues of addiction, and some have mental health issues. We don’t make any claims that we’re experts in any of that, but we’re just givers of kindness and love. It goes a long way.
Baha’i Blog: What advice do you have to others who want to do something similar?
Just do it. Don’t think, don’t talk, just do it. Anyone can serve others. It doesn’t matter who you are or what it is, as long as it’s humanitarian, just do it. It’s about action. I want to see us all serving and doing things and reflecting on the actions we’re taking.
And also don’t show off. Do it for God, do it for humanity, but don’t show off about it. It has to be from the heart, not because you want to talk about it. You know a lot of people didn’t know that I was doing this for years, and I like it that way. Actually I shouldn’t be doing this interview with you for Baha’i Blog… I’m only doing it because you asked… maybe it can inspire others to serve as well.
You know Persians have a saying which goes something like: “The act of something itself speaks for itself.” So we should’t have to talk about something we’re doing, the act should speak for itself.
I would say come along and join us for a couple of nights. So you get a feel for it. And if you’re not on the Gold Coast, I would say go and ask the beautiful questions in your community to try and read the reality. Also go and look at the websites that are directly interacting with homeless people or homelessness. This problem is worldwide, and at least here, it’s become more intense during COVID. So jump in with an open heart, because it can be confronting if you’ve never done anything like this before, because it can take you out of your comfort zone a little bit. And then if it’s still speaking to your heart, be prepared to be consistent in your efforts. Many people do not have consistency: they are literally moved on by different authorities; they often don’t trust the systems that they’re interacting with. So to have a consistent group of people that they can trust — you become a very valuable sounding board. We don’t feel that we offer anything but consistency and love in this group. It’s very clear. We understand we’re not going to be changing anything overnight. So consistency is really key for me.
Baha’i Blog: Where do you hope to see this initiative in the next few years?
I’d like to see this happening in more areas of the Gold Coast if people want to do it. If they need to do it through my organization, you know because we have insurance which they’ll need, then I’d be happy to help with that. But it would be nice to see more of this sort of thing happening. Honestly, I’m also just glad that I can do this. I come no matter what, while there’s been Coronavirus, on public holidays, on New Years, it doesn’t matter, I’m here. I feel like God has helped me do this, and Abdu’l-Baha is helping me, and I hope to be able to continue to do until my last breath.
What we’re starting to see happen is that friends in different areas are now realizing the power of what we’re doing, and starting to replicate it, or want to do it in their own areas. Every area is going to have its own challenges, so they need to read that and act accordingly. But it’s starting to happen and I think this is a really good outcome.
Baha’i Blog: Congratulations on reaching 12 years, and thank you both very much for taking the time to tell us about the service you are consistently and wholeheartedly rendering in your community! Here’s to many more years!