A BENDIGO man has stepped up to support a homelessness service, walking the distance of two marathons in just one weekend to raise funds.
Barry Ward trekked 84 kilometres to raise money for the Bendigo Winter Night Shelter, a church-run program for people experiencing homelessness during the colder months.
It's an organisation Mr Ward and his wife have volunteered with for the past few years.
"It's a brilliant thing. You just see the people who come along to the Winter Night Shelter, they have a good meal, they have good chats with others. It just gives them some stability," he said.
"We've benefited a lot as well, we've met a few people and understood what it means to be doing rough and living life a bit harder."
The trek along the Great Victorian Rail Trail took Mr Ward about 19 hours in total. So far he's raised about $4000, which will be split between the Bendigo shelter and a similar program in the Yarra Valley.
Mr Ward said the financial support made him feel part of the community, with people willing to support a good cause.
Walking 40 kilometres in one day was a hard slog, but Mr Ward said it felt like a lot of people were supporting him through that as well, with frequent texts of encouragement.
Bendigo Winter Night Shelter chair Terry Westaway said generous fundraising like Mr Ward's allowed the program to make sure it had the proper resources, such as insurance and cleaning.
Mr Westaway said the shelter was calling for volunteers for the 2021 program, with a strong response from churches already.
The Winter Night Shelter was established in 2019, when Bendigo churches opened their doors, to offer a place to sleep, and a hot meal to people experiencing homelessness during winter. In 2020 COVID-19 safety measures meant it ran at the Koolamurt scout camp instead.
Mr Westaway said the shelter had changed the lives of guests in its first two years, with many finding permanent accommodation.
"Seeing people come into the program, and even ... after a couple of weeks when they've had some decent sleep and some good food, you can already see their spirits lifting," he said.
"The ones that stay in the program are transformed by the end."
Mr Westaway said the shelter would combine models from the previous two years, with guests spending half the nights at churches, the other half at Koolamurt Scout Camp. He said volunteers hoped this would combine the advantages of each.
Mr Westaway said the program would still run with strict COVID-19 safety protocols.
Find out more about the Bendigo Winter Night Shelter at: bwns.org.au/.
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