"We were struggling."
That's how Glen Innes mum Sueanna described life with her six children and a partner on the sickness benefit. Two of her daughters were plagued with severe health issues that left them struggling to afford medication.
"It was a big struggle. We just managed to live day by day 'til our next pay.
"I felt hopeless but not depressed. I had to be there for my kids. I had to make it happen and get something for them to eat the next day."
Sueanna is speaking out about the hardships of living in poverty for Variety's Winter Appeal, which starts tomorrow. The charity is aiming to raise $40,000 to keep vulnerable families warm and healthy this winter.
Her daughter, Precious, 8, had intensely itchy, sore eczema that covered her entire body up to her neck.
Sueanna's other daughter, Hinerangi, 10, had such bad asthma she needed a trip to hospital once a month. When an asthma attack hit, Sueanna could only put her wheezing and crying daughter in a hot bath while they waited for the ambulance. It was scary, she said.
"I didn't have the medication and we had no car so I couldn't get her to the doctor."
The girls' medication cost an extra $20 a week and a trip in an ambulance was $60. That was a huge chunk of the family's $250-a-week income.
The Child Poverty Monitor found children in disadvantaged areas were five times more likely to miss out on getting prescription medicine due to cost.
Sueanna's partner of 19 years, Robert, had to stop work when he injured his back carrying a freezer as a furniture mover. Then he tore his Achilles tendon falling through a rotten step. He has just started back at work after four years.
Sueanna, 35, said that was the hardest time. When they ran out of food they would get food parcels or ask family.
"But Robert didn't like asking people for help. For him it was embarrassing. It was stressful but we just managed."
Then three years ago they got in touch with Variety who helped the family pay for medicine. Variety found sponsors for three of the children, which adds up to $1125 a year. They're looking for a fourth sponsor for 14-year-old Lizara.
Sueanna said this has helped them pay for clothes, blankets, sports fees, school uniforms, fees and books. Plus it has given them back their dignity and confidence.
Sueanna said she wanted to tell donors how much they had helped.
"I would thank them for taking time to help families like us to achieve what my kids have got now. It puts a smile on their faces, keeps them warm and is a big life-changer. We couldn't have gotten this far without their help."
Hinerangi and Precious are healthier and using less medication now the family can afford preventative medicines. Hinerangi hasn't needed the ambulance for three years and she is playing rippa rugby and netball.
"Before Variety Hinerangi was too sick to play. Now she says 'Mum, come and watch me play sports'."
Variety chief executive Lorraine Taylor said winter was a desperate time for families in poverty. When they came to Variety the charity was often "their last hope".
Vulnerable children are three times more likely to end up in hospital for common respiratory and infectious conditions associated with poverty, Taylor said.
"Winter is a challenging time for all families living in poverty. If something goes wrong there's no additional money.
"Children are not going to school fit - they're cold and sick. It just means kids can't reach their potential and that's what we all want as a society - healthy kids who are able to go to school."
For every dollar donated, a Variety corporate partner will donate another dollar, up to a total of $35,000.
Visit variety.org.nz or text GIVE to 5144 to donate $3.
• Helps around 10,000 children a year
• Has 3100 children sponsored
• About 400 children are on the waiting list for sponsorship
• Minimum sponsorship is $45 a month