The Parramatta Eels are hoping to raise both awareness and funds to combat homelessness with the help of Parramatta Mission when they host the Cowboys at Pirtek Stadium on Monday night.
Eels players visited fans at Parramatta Mission during the week and on game day there will be a celebrity touch football curtain raiser with the club to donate a scarf to Parramatta Mission for every one sold at the game.
The curtain raiser kicks off at 5.50pm pitting a team of Eels legends, including Nathan Cayless, Michael Vella and Luke Burt up against a celebrity team including comedians Rob and Tahir, Joe Snell from House Rules, Kevin Taumata from Bogan Hunter and Dan Widdowson from Hope FM.
Eels prop David Gower told NRL.com at the Mission visit he was blown away by the community response to the Eels' visit.
"Every single person we spoke to today has been so thankful and grateful we came out here and it's little things like that we take for granted living at home and having a hot meal every night, consistent lunches and stuff like that," Gower said.
"It's great to come out here and put a smile on their faces. They appreciate the little bit of time that we give and it grounds you. It puts everything into perspective for you and how lucky we are and how good we have it."
He said he'd spoken to one man who was a lifetime Eels supporter and another lady who was a diehard fan who'd been waiting at the Mission from 8am that morning to get a photo with the players, who also included Manu Ma'u and last week's debutant Daniel Alvaro.
"It's a good rap for people like that to hang around for so long just to say g'day and get a photo taken. We gave out a few scarves. It's just good to put a smile on their face," Gower said.
Parramatta Mission Senior Minister and Group CEO Keith Hamilton told NRL.com the Mission runs the Meals Plus Program, among others, providing 40,000 meals per year at breakfast and lunch five days per week.
The Mission also aims at destigmatising issues around homelessness, which is where help from organisations such as the Eels comes in handy.
"I think destigmatising the whole area of homelessness, that anyone can end up being homeless and that all of us can make a difference in the way we treat each other and that that can make a difference in someone's life. This is part of that raising that awareness as well," he said.
"Everyone who comes here has experienced trauma in their life and for some people that means they are unable to trust people readily and it will take time to build a relationship and build trust so that we can then help them. What we're trying to do is to walk with people in their journey of recovery."
In addition to meals the Mission also provides much-needed social contact to people who otherwise wouldn't have it. Through its partnerships with other non-for-profit groups across western Sydney, Parramatta Mission looks to provide support for mental health and domestic violence issues, he added.
UnitingCare Mental Health CEO Karen Burns told NRL.com the support from the Eels was welcomed by the group.
"It raises awareness of the issues and the Eels have the ability to translate that and communicate that so it's about spreading the message and encouraging people to seek help," she said.
"Or at least they're able to connect with others who might use the service so it's about that community message and they're a great conduit to pass that through."