The economic effects of Covid-19 have created a perfect storm for Kiwi families, many of whom were already struggling to pay for essentials such as clothing and school supplies for their children, the head of a leading charity says.
"It is a situation which is increasingly desperate," says Susan Glasgow, CEO of Variety, the Children's Charity. "Many parents and caregivers are trying to cope with low wages, job insecurity and high rents. Families who have exhausted all other options are having to turn to Variety for help.
"Every day we have caregivers calling us, many in tears," she says. "A lot were struggling before the pandemic, but the recent lockdowns have put even more strain on their finances pushing them to desperation."
She says it is heartbreaking to know that caregivers have to make impossible decisions such as deciding between food or rent, clothes for the children or paying a bill.
"The majority of caregivers (95 per cent) we help are living on an income of less than $50,000 per year and over 83 per cent of them are renters."
Glasgow says Variety has 600 children on the waiting list for the Kiwi Kid Sponsorship programme, a figure that is well up on normal. Last year, in the wake of the initial lockdowns, the number of families seeking help rose by 15 per cent. This year the numbers have exploded.
Between May and July last year Variety received 309 applications for sponsorship but in the same period this year applications almost doubled, rising to 608.
"The situation is pretty harrowing to be honest," Glasgow says. "Every day we receive applications from families in crisis. Their pleas for help are an indication of the growing divide between the haves and have-nots. Children can't help the circumstances they are growing up in.
"Since the pandemic started, families living in hardship have felt the pressure and those who are already vulnerable are more likely to be affected. While we know loving, hardworking parents and caregivers are trying their absolute best, it's very hard and the kids shouldn't have to go without."
Variety's Kiwi Kid Sponsorship programme is one-of-a-kind, just like each of the children it helps. A sponsor is connected to a child and the funding provides is directed to meet the specific needs of the individual child.
Throughout the country 6178 children are already sponsored by individuals and Variety is appealing to other caring Kiwis to sponsor a child and "make a meaningful difference in one young life."
A monthly donation of $50 helps the child with exactly what they need – school uniform, shoes, stationery, help towards a digital device and extra-curricular activities such as school camp or sports fees.
Glasgow says some of the predicaments facing children are heart-breaking.
There is the case of eight-year-old Devon* who has only one pair of shoes which are ripped and very worn.
"He has ADHD (chronic attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and lives with his grandparents who are unable to work due to health and mental health conditions. Sponsorship would enable his grandparents to make sure he has proper clothing and to join in on activities," she says.
"Then there is 11-year-old Kelly and her dad Steve* who have had to adjust to life following the tragic passing away of Kelly's mother. Steve is learning to support his daughter alone, despite living on a low wage and is determined to do his utmost to provide for her needs.
"Sponsorship would help them immensely and give this grieving father and daughter some breathing room."
In another case solo dad Peter is working hard to adapt to the disability of his son Pax* who was born with a severe hearing problem, a condition not diagnosed until he started school.
"His teachers describe him as a lovely boy who has the potential to excel at high school," Glasgow says. "They believe with the support of a Kiwi Kid sponsor he will not only be able to survive but thrive in academic and extra-curricular activities.
"Peter didn't receive the education he would have wanted and he's keen for Pax to have every advantage and opportunity he did not have."
Glasgow says she is hoping that kind New Zealanders who sympathise with the struggles other Kiwis face will come forward as sponsors. "It may be because they have experienced hardship themselves and are in a position to give back or they are passionate about social issues such as child poverty and inequity.
"To see the number on the waiting list is shocking, but to us they're not just numbers," she says. "They are real Kiwi kids – young New Zealanders in need.
"Anyone considering becoming a sponsor shouldn't underestimate the profound difference they could make in one young life."
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of children and families.
For more information go to: variety.org.nz/donate/sponsor-a-child/