Into its fourth year, Christmas From The Heart aims to help West Auckland families and individuals who are finding things tough by providing essential food items, Christmas food to enable whānau to enjoy a celebratory dinner on Christmas Day and, when required, gifts for children who might otherwise miss out.
Running for seven days leading up to Christmas, the event is organised by Visionwest Waka Whakakitenga, in association with Glen Eden Baptist Church and with partnering support from the Auckland City Mission (ACM). ACM run a similar event at Eden Park and partner with community organisations – Manurewa Marae, Ngā Whare Waatea Marae in Mangere, Papakura Marae – in other regions of Auckland.
Between 14th December to 22nd December, 1,758 families were provided with parcels, feeding 4,119 adults and 4,916 children. 4,916 children received Christmas gifts.
This represents a 30% increase in the number of parcels provided when compared to last year’s event, and a 47% increase in the number of children’s gifts given away.
At the team briefing on Friday 16 December, ACM CEO, Helen Robinson, spoke about how sad it was to realise that more people than ever before are in need. The realities of income decreases resulting from Covid, and recent cost of living increases have resulted in a growing number of West Auckland families struggling to make ends meet.
Staff at Visionwest have noticed this increase in need amongst client whānau we work with. A recent survey of 110 Visionwest whānau (published in November 2022) provided the following key stats after being interviewed about their access to food and finances:
Preparing for Christmas From The Heart takes precise planning; delivery of the event requires an army of volunteers. Throughout the lead up, a team of six meet to plan. Then a Project Delivery team of fifteen oversee the logistics of the event.
The largest resource, however, is the group of 50-60 volunteers who are involved on a daily basis once the food distribution phase of Christmas From The Heart begins. Many volunteers come from corporate and smaller local businesses who generously donate their time. Together they oversee the call centre, pack food and toys, move trolleys, cook sausages, greet whānau, load whānau cars and marshal the traffic flow, ensure waste packaging is recycled and make certain everyone gets fed.
Also on site are representatives from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) who meet with whānau to discuss whether they are eligible for any additional financial assistance.
Providing Christmas food support for almost 9,000 people is not cheap. Visionwest’s Christmas From The Heart costs a little over $300,000 – that for the food, toys, and logistical support.
While many items (food and gifts) are donated, much must be sourced and purchased. To help with the cost of toys, Visionwest’s Giving Day was held on 15 November with $47,000 being donated by generous supporters.
Both individuals and businesses have been incredibly generous in providing cash, toys and food to ensure Christmas From The Heart’s success.
In the days leading up to the event, West Auckland whānau are able to book a time to receive a parcel and gifts by phoning our Christmas From The Heart call centre. Each whānau is given a specific day and time to come to the Glen Eden Baptist Church carpark where food distribution occurs.
Once the delivery part of Christmas From The Heart begins, each day follows the same routine. At 8:30am, the day’s team of volunteers are given a briefing so that they understand their tasks for the day. At 9.30am, and for every subsequent 15-minute interval, 15 cars are booked to come onto the Glen Eden Baptist Church site. That continues until 1pm and adds up to 225 cars per day.
As whānau arrive in their cars, they are warmly greeted and offered food from our sausage sizzle and an ice cream. While whānau do not exit their cars, an attempt is made to ensure they experience a festive atmosphere.
Visionwest’s focus for 2022 has been “Standing Together – Tu Tahi.” Christmas From The Heart is about standing together as a community to reach out to those in hardship.
A huge thank you to everyone who made this possible. Planning is already underway for Christmas From The Heart 2023.