Christmas is celebrated by many as a time of joy and togetherness, but the holiday season can also add a whole new set of pressures for Kiwis living in need. Alex Casey talks to three charities who are working with The Warehouse this Christmas to lighten the load for those who need it most.
Sometimes, all it takes is a block of cheese. Dr Ang Jury, chief executive of Women’s Refuge, will never forget delivering a hamper to a family in a safe house one Christmas, and how the mother broke down at the sight of the 1kg block of Tasty. It was a luxury she hadn’t been able to afford to buy for her family for months. “When you are going through a horrible episode in your life, even a small thing can make all the difference,” says Jury.
In a country where one in four children are living in poverty, and one in three women are affected by domestic violence at some stage in their lives, the role of charities like Variety, Plunket and Women’s Refuge can have a big impact on the lives of families – especially around Christmas time. “People try to convince themselves around Christmas that all is well and happy and fairy dust,” says Jury, “but that is far from the case for everyone.”
Women’s Refuge provides housing and community advocacy for women and children experiencing domestic violence, supporting around 40,000 people a year. “That could be anything from a finding safe house in the most serious circumstances to helping with lawyers, doctors, police,” says Jury. “It’s really just supporting people to do what they need to do to get safe.” There are currently 40 refuges nationwide.
In her two decades working with Women’s Refuge, Jury has seen the added emotional and financial pressures that Christmas puts on families. “You basically get a perfect storm of all the things that influence family violence,” she says. “You get money pressures, you get people on holiday who are spending much more time together, you’ve got people drinking more, you’ve got issues with mental health that are often exacerbated by the supposed good cheer.”
For families who have had to seek safety, the simple act of gift-giving on Christmas day can make a big difference. “This is supposed to be a time of happiness and warm, snuggly families. If you had your wish for what you would be doing on Christmas, it probably wouldn’t be sitting in crisis accommodation.” This year, in partnership with The Warehouse, Women’s Refuge are aiming to get as many gifts as possible donated in store and distributed to families affected by domestic violence.
“Having that ability to actually have fun with your kids on Christmas makes people feel so much better,” says Jury. With clients in the refuge ranging from babies to teenagers, they are seeking a broad range of gifts – not just for little ones. “There’s no real one toy fits all, people need to remember mums as well. Quite often mums get left out. Young teenage boys also get forgotten. We would like people to bear that it mind if they are looking to support the appeal.”
Keeping with the spirit of gift-giving, Variety are also delivering toys to disadvantaged Kiwi kids this Christmas. Warehouse customers can buy a $10 voucher in store which will then be redeemed for a $25 toy, or can buy a cotton Trelise Cooper bag for $4 to support the cause. “There are kids who won’t be receiving gifts this year because it is simply outside of their parents ability,” says Lorraine Taylor, CEO of Variety. “They are busy trying to make ends meet.”
Living in financial deprivation can mean many things, says Taylor. It might mean that parents can’t afford petrol to drive their kids to the doctor, or have to padlock the fridge shut to make sure their food lasts the week. “Others are fine so long as nothing goes wrong, but as soon as the fridge or the car breaks down, it can be a different story. Many of these kids are used to hand-me-downs and sharing, and don’t know what it is like to have something to call their own.”
Having a gift turn up on the doorstop – not quite the chimney, but close enough – is also a symbol of the broader community reaching out. “It also lets people know that others are thinking about them and they are not alone, that someone else has bothered to go out of their way to make Christmas special for them,” says Taylor. “It also gives parents dignity by making sure they are able to provide that treat for their child.”
Also arriving on over 2,400 doorsteps this December will be Plunket’s baby boxes, a result of their Pedal for Plunket campaign held earlier in the year. Stocked with all the essential goods for a baby’s first six months, Nin Roberts from Plunket hopes that they will take some of the pressure off families this Christmas. “Money is always a stressful factor, especially if you have to buy all this stuff for a new baby on top of everything else.”
This year Plunket is focusing on the measles outbreak in New Zealand, which has increased their call volumes and has required more nurses to travel the country making home visits. “People might not be aware of this, but a lot of families are still scared to leave their houses so we’ve got our nurses going into homes and doing vaccinations.” The easiest way to support this work is through donating to Plunket, who have been helping New Zealand families for over 112 years.
“I’d hope that people realise the breadth of service that Plunket provides is way more than just weighing and measuring babies.” says Roberts. “We are a wraparound service. That’s anything from birth with eating and sleeping issues to car seat clinics to the checks that we do six weeks to before the child starts school. What needs to be really clear is that we aren’t here to judge, we’re here to support you around your parenting journey.”
Of course, it is the generous donations from sponsors and the public that keep these charities providing crucial services to people in need across New Zealand. The Warehouse Group Community Project Manager Bronwyn Clayden has seen this generosity first hand. “I think people tend to focus on family and loved ones at Christmas, which means their heart is more open and they are more likely to think of other people too.” This year The Warehouse is aiming for the largest toy drive yet – 10,000 in total.
The number of people making donations continues to increase every year, Clayden says, with many families now making it an annual tradition of their own. “A lot of parents have made it an outing to teach their kids the joy of giving, which is so exciting. We have the opportunity to really reach the people who need help the most. By leveraging our strength with the strength of Variety, Women’s Refuge and Plunket, we can really make a difference together.”
This content was created in paid partnership with The Warehouse. Learn more about our partnerships here.