The Rotorua Daily Post, with the Rotorua Weekender and The Hits Rotorua 97.5FM, launched its annual Christmas appeal to raise food and money for the local Salvation Army foodbank last Saturday.
From now until December 18, the team will be seeking non-perishable food donations to help the Salvation Army Foodbank continue its work throughout the Christmas period and into 2022.
For many Kiwis, Christmas is a time of celebration and indulgence as whānau come together to spread joy with one another.
However, there are many others for whom the festive season is a time of worry and stress. On top of struggling to make ends meet, they feel the pressure to cover costs and try to make it a special time for their loved ones.
Now, the Rotorua community can come together with the Salvation Army to ensure they can continue to lend a helping hand to those in need.
Rotorua Salvation Army corps officer Kylie Overbye says the strain of Covid is impacting the whole community in some way financially.
"The cost of living has increased. There are a lot of differing contributing factors from rent challenges, increase in food costs, debt and, to be honest, fear."
She says Christmas is the Salvation Army's busiest time of the year.
"So many people are living week-by-week, with no extra funds available for special occasions, like celebrating together with gifts and meals as we do at Christmas time.
"One way we can help families who are struggling is to give a little extra food support to make the Christmas and school holiday season a bit easier on families.
"We all need to experience a little joy, and to stop and appreciate the gift of Christmas, of family and to be able to celebrate and appreciate what we have.
Foods including canned goods, raw ingredients such as flour, sugar, or daily items such as tea, coffee, pasta and soup were always welcome, along with anything else people were willing to give.
The food donated through the appeal goes towards creating Christmas hampers for those in need. Any money donated will be used to buy more food.
Any gifts donated will be given to families for their children.
It is asked that gifts be brought in unwrapped, so parents could be provided with wrapped paper to get the special feeling of wrapping them up themselves.
Last year's appeal saw the total value of donations come in at $64,984.90. The donations helped more than 300 families at Christmas and ensured the Salvation Army could help more families year-round.
Anyone within the community can get involved and help to bring cheer to other families this festive season.
Ngongotahā Primary School principal Craig McFadyen says the school always likes to get in behind this wonderful initiative.
"We have an extremely supportive community who appreciate that there are many whānau in need, especially at this time of the year."
He says their school is very fortunate to be a part of the Kai Ora, Kai Ako health lunches programme run by the Ministry of Education, "but during the school holidays some of our whānau don't have this luxury".
He says Christmas can be a tough time for many families. "However, we have to remember the real gifts are spending time with whānau."
Otonga Primary School principal Gareth Cunliffe says this initiative encourages our children to share.
"It also teaches our students and families to have empathy by helping out where we can. It builds a sense of community and an awareness that there are people in our community who we need to be reaching out to.
"Holidays are expensive with regards to looking after children or finding and paying somebody else to do so.
"Not having enough money to buy food creates huge stress for parents, especially when children do not have access to food at school."
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick encourages everyone who can to contribute in any way they can.
"Every little bit counts towards the collective effort that can make a very significant difference.
"Everyone deserves a happy Christmas and the appeal is one small way we can contribute towards that."
After its roaring success last year, another Fill the Bus event will take place on Tuesday, December 7.
The Hits Rotorua presenter Paul Hickey said Fill the Bus was a one-day appeal to support the Salvation Army Foodbank.
"We spend 10 hours on the roads all over Rotorua visiting schools, businesses and shopping centres, and slowly but surely watch the bus get filled up thanks to the generosity of lots of locals."
He encouraged people to get involved because it was such a great cause.
"The work that Kylie, Ralph and the entire team at Salvation Army undertake year round is essential, and at this time of the year plays an even bigger role in the wellbeing of our city."
He says there will be a lot of schools involved again, and people can organise a business or workplace collection.
"Let us know early so we can include you on our pick-up list, or keep an eye out for our final day-long itinerary for when you can catch us at suburban shopping centres or supermarket locations."
Covid protection measures will be in place on the day (depending on levels).
In last year's Fill the Bus event, the Rotorua community got behind the cause and donated 9376 items worth $18,752.