Darcy Witherspoon founded charity Down to Earth.
Darcy Witherspoon founded charity Down to Earth.

A van and bags of cans: how 20-year-old is helping homeless

IT wasn't until Darcy Witherspoon started working to help others that he felt like himself once again, after a difficult year battling depression.

He started working with the homeless at 14 while he was a student at St Edmund's College and he carried that work on with charity Rosies.

The 20-year-old now knows it's something he wants to do for the rest of his life and he is helping to feed and clothe vulnerable people in Ipswich and beyond.

It is all with the backing of a generous and community-minded city and the power of bags and bags of cans and bottles.

"I wasn't really good at anything apart from that," he said.

"I took a year break and I felt like I lost who I was.

"I didn't feel complete."

He is the one man show behind charity Down to Earth, which he started after buying a van as a "getaway" in October last year.

Mr Witherspoon struggled for months with mental health issues.

"That first night (with the van) I approached two strangers," he said.

"I was extremely lonely and said 'can I have dinner with you, I feel lonely.'

"That's when I came up with the idea of helping others by feeding them.

"Just how I felt before made me not want anyone to experience that sort of pain again."

The Woodend Woolworths worker drives around Ipswich and Brisbane in his van handing out food, clothes and other items.

Most importantly, he offers friendship and an ear to listen to those living rough while cooking something up on a portable gas stove.

"I already knew what to do and where to go," he said.

"It makes them feel at home and not homeless and like they have a place.

"A swam of people usually come around and we sort of build a community inside a community."

Mr Witherspoon collects bags of containers from backers to refund through the Containers for Change scheme at 10 cents apiece and distributes any donations of food or clothes he is given.

"Everything I do is funded by the cans … food, transport and clothing," he said.

"Sometimes I buy odds and ends if things are needed like sleeping bags."

He is currently on the Gold Coast for a week living on the streets.

Darcy Witherspoon is spending the next week living on the streets of the Gold Coast.
Darcy Witherspoon is spending the next week living on the streets of the Gold Coast.

While he's there, he plans to approach Foodbank to sound them out on a proposal to assist homeless people through the recycling scheme.

He is hopefully it can be adopted across the country.

"I want to set up a permanent thing where anyone can take in cans … and Foodbank can do a transfer for cash," he said.

"Say I hand in 50 cans, I get $5. Foodbank don't lose $5, they've still got 50 cans there. It's all good for them and all good for me."

Mr Witherspoon spent his first night on the coast in an abandoned hotel.

The grim reality of homelessness isn't anything new but he said the situation on the Gold Coast was an eye-opener.

"I didn't know how bad it was until right now," he said.

"Every corner I walk to there is someone there. I haven't really seen many charities around and out.

"I've been struggling to find help myself.

"In Ipswich, a lot of them are actually sheltered and looked after. They have a pretty good system in Ipswich, especially around the churches.

"I've purposefully done this (on the Gold Coast) so it makes me feel even more isolated as I don't know anyone here so I get that true experience."

Mr Witherspoon is now bringing on other people to help out where they can; he works full time for Woolworths and studies business and commerce at the University of Southern Queensland.

His best mate is heading out this week around Ipswich while he is on the Gold Coast.

He is proud of how far his charity had come in the past few months and was encouraged by the number of people getting on board and showing support.

"I'd love to keep doing this for the rest of my life," he said.

"You can't describe the feeling you get. You just feel life whenever you help people, it's an indescribable feeling.

"At the end of the day, it's all of us combined. I'm just the final guy that hands it to them.

"They're helping in the weirdest way. They're not helping by giving me money, they're helping by giving me cans.

"One man's trash is another man's treasure."