Christmas at the City Mission by Angela Caldin

Auckland City Mission on National News            

Who would have believed it possible? Who would have thought the Auckland City Mission would make the top item on the national news on Friday? It’s a sad fact that the reason it achieved this dubious honour was the long lines of hundreds of people queuing up outside to get food parcels and presents for their children from the Mission. People queued from early morning to late afternoon to be assessed in order to get basic food items and donated presents suitable for each child’s age and gender. They were certainly not happy to be there for hours on end in the hot sun, they were embarrassed or even ashamed, but felt they had no other alternative. The hand-outs are not given haphazardly – each applicant is assessed by Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) and by the Mission’s social workers to determine what help they can receive. And all this is happening in a developed country with a welfare system that is supposed to cater for those in need.

Causes of Poverty

What are the causes for this unprecedented rise in demand on the Mission’s resources? People in the queue said they had been pushed to the brink by inadequate benefits, job losses and rises in the cost of living. Something seems to have gone badly wrong when a politician such as Greens’ co-leader Metiria Turei is moved to say: “They do not deserve to be treated with so little dignity and respect. They do not deserve to be left on the streets seeking charity from food banks when the welfare system is designed to care for them when they are between work.” And the Mission’s CEO, Diane Robertson spelt it out even more clearly: “People who are on benefits, they don’t come to us because they are in crisis any more, they come to us because they are in chronic poverty.”

Food and Present Parcels

Inside the Mission there was a hive of frenzied activity. Staff and volunteers alike were putting food parcels together as fast as they could go, and please don’t imagine that we are talking about luxury items here. It’s tins of baked beans, spaghetti hoops and soup, sausages, potatoes and maybe some vegetables and fruit. It’s all the absolute basics that most of us take completely for granted. In another room, volunteers were making up anonymous bags of presents, all donated by generous members of the public. Each family receives a present suitable for each child, a family present, a couple of books and some stocking fillers. Look under your own tree if you think that’s a lot and you’ll soon realise that it’s not actually a great deal compared to what the average child receives.

The Mission’s Work throughout the Year

The Mission does fantastic work all through the year, feeding and advising the homeless on a daily basis, dealing with people in crisis, providing medical care at the Calder Centre and offering Detox with alcohol and other drug professionals. It’s really important to know that the Mission doesn’t just hand out a food parcel and send people on their way. Social workers provide advice, give immediate assistance, make referrals to other services and develop a plan to really help. Many people in Auckland have reason to be grateful to the Mission and the help it gave them to get on their feet and move forward in times of difficulty.

Volunteers

The Mission has a dedicated staff and also relies on the support of more than 14,000 volunteer hours every year. Volunteers are important all throughout the year, but they are particularly vital at Christmas time. They go out on the annual street appeal in early December to raise funds for the fantastic Christmas lunch which the Mission provides each Christmas Day. Last year, two and a half thousand people were fed for free with the help of numerous volunteers chopping, cooking, serving and waiting on table, all agreeing that it was one of the best ways to spend Christmas Day. This year at the Events Centre at the Wynyard Quarter, there may be even more guests at the lunch, given the difficult straights people find themselves in. But the staff and volunteers will be there as usual to make sure that all the guests have the best time possible. It’s a massive undertaking and only under the leadership of someone with the vision of Diane Robertson could it be achieved. And not forgetting Kelly Douglas, this year’s Christmas co-ordinator who’s worked such long hours to pull everything together.

If you want to find out more about the work of Auckland City Mission or even make a donation, go to:

http://www.aucklandcitymission.org.nz/

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