'Dark times' Idris will never forget
When the 'three-day soup' Alana Simon cooked up for her family in Forster had finally run its course, she would boil up another batch of rice and slosh it around the now-empty pot to try to give the rice some flavour.
As a single mother living in an Aboriginal mission, it was all she could do to keep her family fed for just one more day.
When her sons would ask for a luxurious sip of 'fizzy drink', she would grab a bottle of Eno – described as "effervescent fruit salts used as an antacid" – mix its contents with some water and encourage her kids to drink it "while it was still bubbling".
"She always tried to hide it but there's only so much you can hide," remembers Titans star Jamal Idris of the poverty his family fell into. "We used to call it 'three-day soup' because it had to last for three days. Mum would make a big pot of it and then she would just have rice and keep remaking it with rice until it got to the point where some days if there was none left in the pot Mum would put the rice in there and stir it around to try and get some flavour in the rice.
"As much as what we didn't have, we had a lot of other things."
They're stark reminders for Idris of just how tough times were for his mum and their family and how the help of St Vincent de Paul kept him from a life fated to be spent behind bars, or worse.
Idris and the Gold Coast Titans are encouraging members to join in their Christmas Appeal and donate a gift to the St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland Christmas tree located at the Titans Members Christmas Carnival on Saturday at Broadwater Parklands.
For Idris, it's a small way to help support an organisation that lifted his family from the depths of despair.
"Me and my mum hit a bit of a rough patch when I was 12 and 13 back in Forster and every now and then we would sleep in the car. We had a lot of family but they had kids of their own and the houses were pretty full," Idris reveals.
"We were pretty much stranded and 'Vinnies' came to our rescue and helped us out.
"They have a few units in Forster and they got us into one of them for six months and it got us back on our feet and we could start living again and I could start going back to school.
"One thing my mum always told me was to never forget where you're from and never forget all your experiences and I want to help Vinnies because they helped me.
"I never really knew until I grew up myself but to go out and ask someone physically for help, it's a hard thing to do because your pride takes a hit as well. There are a lot of single parents out there doing as much as they can for their kids and they shouldn't be afraid to ask someone for help."
It's an all-too familiar tale for Jim Donaldson, President of St Vincent de Paul's Central Council (South Coast), although very few cases that he comes across have such a happy ending.
"I think Jamal's story is really inspiring because those are the sort of people we help and fortunately he's been able to remember that and look back and be able to help us now to help other people," Donaldson explains.
"There are a lot of significant things that can happen in a child's life and they can look back now and think, 'Boy, if it hadn't been for them, where would I have been?'"
St Vincent de Paul provided Alana and her children with temporary accommodation for six months and Idris opened up to NRL.com, saying that it gave him the grounding to break the cycle of violence and alcoholism that was destroying other members of his family.
"There's a lot of personal stuff that a lot of people just wouldn't know. There was a lot of jail in our family as well," Idris says through 23-year-old eyes that have already witnessed too much hurt. "I had to live with one of my mum's friends, she got locked up for a while, and it was a bit of a dark time, but what can you do?
"I saw a lot of my other cousins, they were content to sit there and just drink and go fighting every weekend and it got to the point where... I was a teenager and it's easy to fall into that slump.
"I was drinking a lot as a teenager I guess and an opportunity came up. One of my teachers, Denise Williams, from Forster, she was my volleyball coach as well, she said, 'Whatever chance you get , straight away get out of Forster. Take it, no matter what. The way things are around here and the way your family's heading, you'll be locked up soon.'
"And that was the best-case scenario, where I was heading."
It's a cruel reality that has kept Idris's spirits high as he has battled through two injury-depleted seasons on the Gold Coast and acted as something of a lightning rod for the 'haters' during his four years at the Bulldogs.
One of the most charismatic and engaging figures in the game – not to mention one of the most physically imposing – is now back in full training and eagerly eyeing off a spot in the Titans squad for the Auckland Nines in February.
There are New South Wales Origin and Kangaroos jerseys to win back but when you ask Idris for his Christmas wish for 2014, a typically unselfish response is forthcoming: the good health of his brother Isaac Simon's new baby daughter, Eden.
"I guess everyone wants me to say something about footy but footy's not who I am, it doesn't consume me. I only play because I love playing," he admits.
"My Christmas wish? Just that everything goes fine with my niece, Eden. It's pretty exciting bringing a new family member into your family."
Especially when family was once all he had.