“My mum told me her story that she … once needed help … and UnitingCare Werribee helped her when she was seven months’ pregnant with me.
“So to all my family and friends, please don’t buy me gifts, instead you can … make my wish come true by donating food, toys, books and bathroom needs.”
Troy had his birthday party at the church, now called Uniting Wyndham, in February, when he dropped off the bags of goods.
The good deed also inspired his mother to give back. Now, once a week, she hands out food to families, including those struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from the same place she went to all those years ago after a relationship breakdown.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would end up in that kind of situation,” Ms Mattsson, now a special needs carer, said.
“I still remember to this day, the promise that I made to myself that I will never come back there again. I will make sure that I will get up and start again.
“And who would have thought 10 years later, I would actually go back again, but this time to give back to the community and all because my son wanted to celebrate his birthday a different way.”
Uniting has more than 2500 volunteers, who are being recognised this week as part of National Volunteer Week. They comprise almost half of Uniting’s workforce in its Victorian and Tasmanian branch, helping out in programs including aged care, emergency relief, foster care, disability support and suicide prevention.
Senior manager Cathryn Ryan said it was empowering to see Ms Mattsson and Troy come full-circle.
“It’s about people coming through their journey and … out the other side and then reflecting back and then wanting to give back to their community,” she said.
“What Jhez has done to raise her child to have empathy and to be thinking about other people is amazing.”
Ms Ryan said the organisation had seen a 20 per cent increase in people using its emergency relief centres.
“We have got a lot of new people that probably wouldn’t have come though [previously],” she said.
“We want people to feel like they’re welcome, respected and … walk away feeling heard.”
Troy has long expressed concern for people in need, including sponsoring a child and donating to the homeless.
“Christmas last year, I received a lot of presents, so I thought to myself, I want you to give [on my birthday], because I know there’s some hungry people,” he said. “It feels heart-warming and nice.”
Ms Mattsson beams with pride at her son’s giving spirit.
“Honestly, it’s the best gift that you can pass on to your kids, to show them [that] every [bit of] help counts,” she said.
‘And for him to actually initiate that, it makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing.”
Chloe Booker is a reporter at The Age.