Salvation Army's Adopt a Family Christmas initiative is back and who better to vouch for it than Whangārei mother-of-six Serena Mata.

After juggling time staying with friends, her sister, and in her van, her children thought last year's Christmas when they received hampers and gift packs in transitional housing was their best ever.

The seven lived in a Salvation Army-owned temporary house for just over a year before last week moving into a state home in Raumanga.

Two hundred families were sponsored by businesses and individuals during last year's Adopt a Family programme and the Salvation Army is looking for 220 donors this time round.


Mata, 31, is a kohanga reo worker in Tikipunga and will finish her degree in teaching next year.

After losing a family home at Waipoua in June last year, she left to stay with her sister in Auckland but came back to Whangārei after a month.

"I jumped from friend to friend's house, stayed in our van, and if I had enough money, I'd stay in motels...did that a couple of times. Went to Work and Income but they always turned me away.

"But on my third appointment, someone there made a call to the Sallies and I got housing straight away. It was a huge relief at the time. It felt like the world has lifted off my shoulders," she said.

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Mata said she has been turned down from private rentals because of the size of her family.

On last year's Adopt a Family programme, she said: "It was a blessing, just even being considered for something like that is an awesome feeling and the kids loved it. They thought it was the best Christmas ever."

Salvation Army Whangārei community ministries team leader Marlene Bowers said the transitional housing was a 12-week programme to provide interim help to struggling families.


"However, we are not there to evict people, especially a mother-of-six like Serena who's working as well as looking after six kids and to us, that's amazing," she said.

The original Adopt a Family concept was created by a group of lawyers from the Manukau courts who felt they and their families had lost the true spirit of Christmas, often exchanging gifts that were not needed or even appreciated.

The group approached a Salvation Army court officer and asked if she would find a family they could provide for, to ensure they would experience a happy Christmas that many of us took for granted.

A family was found and their first names, gender and ages were provided to the lawyers.

They in turn went shopping for the family and provided individualised, wrapped gifts for each member of the family and a Christmas food hamper with all the trimmings that families generally enjoy on that day.

Those interested in participating in the Adopt a Family for Christmas programme in Whangārei can email