22 Dec 2022

Christmas hampers a weight off shoulders for those in need

From Checkpoint, 5:31 pm on 22 December 2022
Christchurch Methodist Mission hampers.

Christchurch Methodist Mission hampers. Photo: RNZ / Niva Chittock

Across the motu, charity volunteers and staff are busy handing out festive food parcels, presents and pantry staples to those who need a little extra help to make the big day happen. 

Eden Park was the place of Christmas giving for Auckland City Mission on Thursday. A huge team of volunteers gave out 10,000 hampers of food, up to 40,000 presents, and for those that qualified, a special needs Work and Income grant.

"Getting close to Christmas, it's nice just to help families, especially the kids that end up needing our support the most, and to just generally spread Christmas cheer," one volunteer said. 

Moana Te Whao, Auckland City Mission food security team lead.

 Moana Te Whao, Auckland City Mission food security team lead. Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

"I get to service my people every day and that's not only a service, but an honour," another added. 

One volunteer knew that every little bit counts at this time of year. 

"A lot of our families don't have that same privilege as what we do. So when we see some people that are vulnerable, [we can make a difference] by talking with them, being open with them and connecting with our people.

"Time is precious and family is precious at this time, and not everyone has that."

Over the past year, the mission distributed 63,000 food parcels across the region - each one feeding a family of four, three meals a day, for four days - more than 3 million meals in total.

Chief executive Helen Robinson said for many, receiving help carried a deep level of shame.

"Now there is no shame to ask for help, and it's a very human experience to actually just want to be able to provide for yourself."

Auckland City Mission volunteers.

Volunteers at the Auckland City Mission. Photo: Tom Taylor / RNZ

Christchurch City Mission has also been inundated, with more than 350 people expected to collect a Christmas food box each day this week.

Other charities around the city were also spreading festive magic.

Christchurch Methodist Mission's Support a Family initiative matched supporters with families in need to create a personalised hamper with food and gifts.

A hamper was a blessing for one tearful single mum who has been unable to work. 

"I pretty much just needed a bit of extra help with my son… because he's in and out of hospital all the time. So yeah, I just didn't have the extra money to buy new food or Christmas presents for him," she sobbed. 

Another mum explained she didn't have money left over to save for Christmas at the end of the week. Without the hamper, her kids wouldn't have had a Christmas. 

"This is what it means to have a community. All the rough stuff that is happening in Christchurch and around New Zealand… at least we're just lucky to have people in the community that can actually help support and do these sorts of things, because not one person can do it by themselves."

Gift bags sorted by age.

 More than 150 hampers have been donated, each one tailored to a specific family’s needs. Photo: Tom Taylor / RNZ

The mother believed when people came to pick up their hamper, a weight was lifted off their shoulders.

"People have got smiles on their faces. They're not sitting there stressing, pulling their hair out, thinking, 'How am I going to pull this off? What bills do I have to skimp on to be able to do something for my kids or be able to give them a nice meal on Christmas Day?'

"They don't have to stress about that, so it's great. Everybody here has got a smile on their face!"

From giftee to giver

Jill Hawkey, the Methodist Mission's executive director, said some of the donors understood how hard this time of year can be.  

The programme has been running the eight years she's been in the role, 14 years in total. 

"We've got some supporters now who make a hamper up each year because in the past they actually received a hamper," Hawkey explained. 

"They know how much it meant to them at that time and how it helped them get through a difficult period, so now they've become supporters, which is just fabulous."

Jill Hawkey, Christchurch Methodist Mission executive director, and Glenda Marshall, Support a Family organiser.

 Jill Hawkey, Christchurch Methodist Mission executive director and Glenda Marshall, Support a Family organiser. Photo: RNZ / Niva Chittock

One Ara staffer was dropping off the polytech's hamper, and said it does more than just help struggling whānau. 

"We have a lot of fun collecting stuff [for our hamper]. And then we have a little wrapping party, which we had yesterday, wrapping up all the presents," they explained. 

"This year has been very weird with various things happening. It was just a great way to bring everybody together yesterday and I was finally feeling a bit of that Christmas spirit, which has been missing."

Chanel and Natalie were also dropping off a hamper on behalf of their business. Chanel believed it was important to give, even if you couldn't see the need personally. 

"It's just a selfless thing to do, especially if you've got the resources to give a little bit extra. It's always nice just to pass it on because it's not always the people that you know that need help."

The Christchurch Methodist Mission expected over 600 people to benefit from the hampers, with about 400 estimated to be children.