Fears for Christmas project

Tough times . . . Representatives of the Christian Helping Agencies Group, (from left) Catholic Social Services community support worker Paul Barham, Salvation Army Community Ministries co-ordinator David McKenzie, Presbyterian Support Otago practice manager Melanie McNatty, Catholic Social Services director Mike Tonks, and St Vincent de Paul centre and pastoral co-ordinator Sarah Strang, are calling for donations to keep the annual Christmas Food Hamper project running. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

Christmas cheer could be in short supply for 320 Dunedin families this year as a shortage of funds puts an annual hamper project under threat.

Run by the Christian Helping Agencies Group (CHAG), the Christmas Hamper project has been providing some of the city’s most vulnerable families with a Christmas meal, treats, toys and gifts for the past 13 years.

The project – previously known as the Combined Christmas Food Banks – runs on an annual budget of about $10,500.

Salvation Army Community Ministries manager David McKenzie said the project had previously “ticked over” with a steady stream of donations.

“Unfortunately, we only have $2500 in the kitty so far this year – well short of the funds we need,” Mr McKenzie said.

The organisations would have to make a decision about whether to go ahead with the Christmas hamper distribution by the end of September, leaving about six weeks to raise the $8000 needed, he said.

Presbyterian Support Otago practice manager Melanie McNatty said the usual donations to the Christmas hamper project from members of the public and businesses had been diverted in the wake of the Kaikoura earthquake on November 14 last year.

The earthquake affected donations of money and the number of gifts that could be distributed last Christmas, Ms McNatty said.

“Also, money is tight across the board at the moment, so we have struggled to top up the fund,” she said.

The CHAG collective involves Presbyterian Support Otago, Catholic Social Services, St Vincent de Paul, Anglican Family Care, the Salvation Army, and Methodist Mission.

St Vincent de Paul centre and pastoral co-ordinator Sarah Strang said the hampers were vital for families who might not otherwise be able to sit down to a Christmas meal.

“Christmas is a difficult time for many people, and the possibility of having family coming for the day or just trying to have a special meal can really add to the pressure,” Ms Strang said.

CHAG members had already received queries from families anxious about the approach of Christmas and hoping for a hamper.

“This is the reality for many families – they simply don’t have the money to cope.”

The social agencies that run food banks, including Presbyterian Support, the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul, report that stocks are critically low.

With nothing left now from the pre-Christmas community can appeal, agencies were having to buy up to 90% of the foodstuffs for food parcels.

Each food bank was distributing up to 90 food parcels each week.

“The situation is putting pressure on agencies at a time when demand is very high,” Mr McKenzie said.

Ms McNatty said that winter was traditionally a time of high demand for services, as families struggled to meet their bills and also faced high power bills.

“Even people who are working aren’t earning enough to make ends meet, and many beneficiaries are in a terrible situation” she said.

“The demand for our services is huge.”


How to help

People who would like to make a donation towards CHAG’s Christmas Hamper project have several options:

Money can be sent by post to Christian Helping Agency Group, 266 Hanover St, Dunedin 9016, with “Attention: Christmas Hamper” on the envelope.

Funds can be transferred by internet banking to the bank account 01-0905-0930990-25.

Or money can be dropped in by hand to any of the CHAG organisations.