This week, food bank clients will enter a magical Christmas grotto, as they receive all the ingredients they need to share a festive meal.
The Salvation Army in Tauranga has been transformed into a huge Christmas ‘shop’, complete with tinsel, trees, Christmas music, and homemade baking. ‘We’ve created this beautiful atmosphere, because Christmas can be stressful and when you are struggling financially, that puts pressure on family dynamics. So we want to alleviate that stress at Christmas,’ says Salvation Army manager Davina Plummer. ‘We talk about hope, love, peace and joy at Christmas, and this is about making that a reality—making the magic of Christmas accessible to others.’
Similar grottos have also been also been created in Hamilton and Blenheim, and elsewhere around the country thousands of Christmas hampers are being given out by Salvation Army foodbanks.
The aim is that families have everything they need to enjoy a delicious meal together: ‘We put together Christmas hampers and the focus is not on snacks but providing the ingredients for a special meal including chicken, vegetables, and Christmas treats.’
Families also get to choose their own presents for their children, from hundreds of gifts donated. ‘We want to involve parents and lift their mana. They know their child best and we want to honour that,’ adds Davina.
‘The people we’re working with, they just really want to provide for their kids and they battle with that. This way, they are still providing Christmas—we’re just helping them save money so they can save for the rent deposit, or power bill, and keep that money aside so they can move on from their situation.’
Last year, Shayla was in transitional housing with two children, and received help to put on a Christmas meal. ‘Last Christmas, by the time I paid my bills, I had four dollars left, so I told my children Christmas was going to be late, and I just cried. But I came to the Sallies and they gave me food and gifts and movie vouchers. It was absolutely incredible, she says. ‘It was great coming here because they treat you with respect, like you’re human and you feel cared about.’
It was a turning point for Shayla. This year she has a job, her family has a place to call home and Shayla has saved up to put on her own family Christmas.
‘It’s very powerful seeing families come to the Christmas grotto. We see a lot of tears,’ says Davina. ‘And once the families go, we shed our own tears.’