Businessmen on a mission
Today Tonight reporter Mark Gibson with his undercover high-profile executives. Picture: Ian Munro/The West Australian

In a small, nondescript kitchen in Victoria Park, the boss of one of WA's best-known companies is peeling potatoes. Across town, a mining entrepreneur is wandering the streets of Northbridge speaking to homeless people about life on the street.

The people around them don't know it yet, but these men are about to change the lives of a few extraordinary people who work tirelessly to feed and protect the homeless. They are the "undercover angels", two successful Perth businessmen who went incognito to help out two virtually unknown but invaluable WA charities.

Undercover Angels is a two-part Today Tonight series based on UK reality show The Secret Millionaire.

It follows the high-flyers as they ditch their suits and briefcases in favour of jeans and baseball caps to spend time with two self-sufficient charities. Blown away by the dedication and passion of the volunteers, the angels hand over tens of thousands of dollars to the charities at the conclusion of the show.

Today Tonight Perth executive producer, Marie-Anne Keeffe, hopes the series will encourage other entrepreneurs to step out of their comfort zone and make a difference at a grassroots level.

"It is quite easy to write a cheque, but this required people putting their money where their mouth was and actually immersing themselves in the lives of the people they wanted to help," she says. "They have changed lives and maybe even saved lives doing this."

Angel One's undercover mission involved spending a day with ex-farmers and great-grandparents Beverley and John Lowe, the people behind Manna Industries, who were this week named among WA's senior Australian of the Year finalists.

Manna began in 1996, when the Lowes came across a group of homeless people in the Perth CBD and decided to make soup for them.

With the help of an army of volunteers, the couple now cook a full meal for about 140 homeless people in Perth six days a week.

Angel One spent time in the Lowes' small commercial kitchen, where he peeled hundreds of potatoes for that night's roast dinner.

"There were two special moments," he says."One special moment for me was looking into people's eyes when they took the food. I could just see the gratitude in their eyes. The other was when I was able to make a small contribution to help that charity, which lives hand-to-mouth weekly."

Angel Two spent an evening with Swags Team Perth, a charity headed up by 23-year-old Sarah English.

Ms English made it her mission to raise enough money to buy a backpack bed for every bedless person in WA after a few chance encounters with homeless people in 2010.

For the past two years she has been hosting weekend homelessness tours in Perth to raise money for 760 of the portable, waterproof beds.

Angel Two says he felt compelled to join Ms English on one of the tours soon after hearing about her mission.

"Her dedication and her drive is what inspired me to do the show," he explains. "At 23, when most girls are out nightclubbing and this and that, she is spending her weekends walking the streets of Northbridge trying to raise money. I think hard work and taking risks are the keys to success and she took a big risk."

Before the angels went on their undercover missions, Today Tonight reporter Mark Gibson contacted the Lowes and Ms English to ask if he could put together a report on their charities. The cover story allowed Today Tonight to film the angels' journeys and capture the moments the men handed out their cheques.

Gibson describes the series as one of the highlights of his 20-year career as a reporter. "The angels really immersed themselves in the charities and what they were doing and I think they learnt a lot along the way," Gibson says.

"I know they are going to have a lasting involvement with these charities because they were really moved by what they experienced."

The identity of each angel will be revealed at the end of their episode.

Undercover Angels airs today and tomorrow during Today Tonight at 6.30pm on Seven/GWN7.

The West Australian

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