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How Christmas 2021 Was Different

For each of the past few years, Visionwest Waka Whakakitenga, a large West Auckland trust delivering multiple support services to local individuals and families, has provided Christmas food support to those who would otherwise go without.

Over 1,300 Christmas food support parcels were given out by Visionwest, many to people who had never before accessed any form of social support service.

Whānau are encouraged to preregister for Christmas From The Heart and, on their allotted day, come to Visionwest’s Glen Eden campus. Here they are able to pick up a food pack containing essential food items to get them through the Christmas period, special food items to enable them to create a Christmas dinner they would not be able to afford and, when appropriate, gifts for their children.

This year, something about the event was different.

We’d expected an unprecedented demand – it seems to increase every year. We’d expected Covid to have some effect on the way we processed parcels and on the demographic of those requesting a parcel. We didn’t expect to see such a graphic daily demonstration of how so many families in our community have been impacted by Covid.

In a Scoop article last month, we gave the example of one couple with three high-school-aged children. Before Covid, the family were doing well with both husband and wife working towards fulfilling their plan to pay off of their mortgage as quickly as possible. When lockdown came, the husband’s plumbing business had to cease operating meaning he had no income for almost ten weeks. The wife was paid the wage subsidy. This meant the family’s overall income dropped to about 25% of what it was before lockdown and, for the first time in their lives, they were forced to access a foodbank and other social services.

This is the sort of story organisers of Christmas From The Heart heard time and time again as those receiving Christmas food support opened up about struggles they never thought they would face. Many had savings put aside for a “rainy day” but the downpour that is Covid lockdown meant that that was quickly exhausted. Others took mortgage holidays or borrowed money.

What was evident over Christmas is that many of the families who were facing such dire financial challenges for the first time, felt totally unequipped to figure out how to gain the necessary support. These people had never entered a WINZ office. Nor had they every asked for charity—most were previously ardent supporters of charitable causes rather than being the recipients.

The demand was such that, over the four months of lockdown, the financial mentors from Money Mentors, Visionwest’s budgeting service, provided as many sessions as for the entire previous year.

The demand for food support was even greater. In those same four lockdown months, Visionwest’s Pātaka Kai gave away four times the number of food support parcels as it did for the entire previous year.

In all, Christmas From The Heart saw over 1,300 food and gift parcels sourced, packed, processed, and given away. These provided Christmas food support for 2,845 adults and 3,334 children.

For these families, the challenge of Christmas is behind them but the challenge of financial survival one day to the next remains.


© Scoop Media

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