Bay families forced to cancel Christmas

By Michele McPherson

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Christmas won't come for some Western Bay kids this year because their parents are struggling to put food on the table, let alone presents under the tree.

The manager of St Peter's House, which offers emergency food parcels, Liz Garbutt, said the number of hungry people knocking on the door had nearly tripled since July.

"We're bracing ourselves because it is getting worse," she said.

Requests for petrol vouchers and assistance to pay power bills had also increased with one or two households a week having their power cut off, she said.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

"There's a huge demand for people getting assistance and I think people are paying their rent but there's nothing left over."

Some were asking for help for the first time, including families hit by the Psa kiwifruit crisis and being laid off work because of the recession.

"I think there's a real flow-on effect because of the reduction of seasonal work available," she said.

"They'll say, 'I've never had a food parcel before' whereas historically you get the same people."

Ms Garbutt said other Tauranga churches were feeling increased pressure to help those in need.

Tauranga Foodbank chairman Mike Baker said the foodbank had been forced to tighten the rules on who was eligible for food parcels after huge demand earlier in the year saw the service almost close its doors.

The holiday period meant more mouths to feed as extra visitors descended on the Western Bay putting extra stress on families, Mr Baker said.

"Obviously the demand is as great as ever and it's a really difficult time for a lot of families. We anticipate a very busy December," he said.

The Bay of Plenty Times Christmas Appeal 2011 is supporting the foodbank.

The end of the year also brought the annual round of redundancies while Psa's effects were expected to be felt at the foobank at the start of 2012.

"That's going to create issues because a lot of people rely on that additional income for that six-to-eight-week period to top up their financial resources," he said.

Mr Baker said a lot of the foodbank parcels were needed by families with children.

"A lot of our beneficiaries are children who often don't have a say in where their parents spend their money," he said.

"Families are having increased costs and there's not very large increases in wages and income," he said.

Tauranga Salvation Army captain Jenny Bartlett said the number of needy in Tauranga would be a lot higher this Christmas than many residents realised. "There's still a huge need in the community people aren't really aware of. Jobs are less, stress is high, people are definitely finding it harder to make ends meet," she said.

Families were struggling to feed their children and buy basics such as bread and milk, she said.

"There's definitely not enough money for Christmas presents because they're struggling with food and prices of food," she said.

She hoped Western Bay families would get behind the Salvation Army's Adopt a Family programme which sees anonymous donors provide presents for families who are struggling financially at Christmas.

Mrs Bartlett said the extra pressure over the holiday season also saw a spike in family violence.

"Family violence, domestic violence all compounds to that urgent need that happens at Christmas," she said.

Tauranga Budget Advice manager Marjorie Iliffe said most clients did not have spare money for Christmas.

"Mostly I don't think they're worried particularly about Christmas," she said.

She said most clients were quite sensible about the spending they did at Christmas with some borrowing money or putting a bit more on their credit card.

Often it was adults who put pressure on themselves to buy Christmas presents, rather than children.

Mrs Iliffe suggested wrapping up some $2 coins and allowing children to go shopping themselves after Christmas.

"They get as much fun out of that. I've seen kids' eyes light up with a $2 coin. Presents for the kids don't have to be expensive to give pleasure," she said.

Mrs Iliffe said some clients were conscious about how they were going to feed their families on Christmas Day and the service recommended booking a seat at the free annual Christmas dinner at St Peter's Presbyterian Church.

Christmas too costly for one family

A Merivale solo mother-of-three said there was simply no money for Christmas this year.

Maralyn, who spoke on the condition her surname was not used, said rising food prices, power and and rent ate through most of her weekly domestic purposes benefit.

"It's really hard. I haven't been able to get presents at all," she said.

For the last few weeks the 30-year-old and her children have been living on stew and sandwiches, mostly made with free bread from the Fullstop van which calls on the streets of Merivale once a week.

"I've been living off of that most weeks, we make do with it," she said.

Maralyn said assistance from staff at Tauranga's St Peter's House had seen her narrowly avoid a Christmas season without power after she was unable to pay a hefty bill.

On Christmas Day she plans to take her children, a son aged 10 and daughters aged 5 and 6, to the Christmas dinner at St Peter's Presbyterian Church.

Maralyn said she had no family support in Tauranga.

 As a result she was trying to look for free ways to bring some Christmas joy to her family, including attending the Christmas Parade.

"Even though we haven't got anything it's just given them that Christmas spirit of watching Santa go past,"

- Bay of Plenty Times

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