Seven years ago, Sharni Budd saw one new mum in need and her goal was to help her. She gave what she could and turned to social media for more help.
Soon she had enough donated clothing and vouchers to help 10 new mums. The seed for Loving Arms was sown.
Loving Arms was founded in 2014, and from those small beginnings, this year Loving Arms helped its 1000th mum.
And while the demand for Loving Arms help has grown, the original goal has remained – Every baby matters; every family counts.
Sharni's vision was to see that every baby born in the community was adequately clothed and every new family cared for, supported and encouraged during that all-important time after the birth and throughout baby's first year.
It is a Waikato-wide organisation, helping mums from the Coromandel to Tokoroa. Sharni still does most of the deliveries in person as she and her volunteers help transport the equipment needed to those seeking support.
It has meant big changes for the Budd family as Sharni and her husband Jamie position Loving Arms to continue to meet the growing demand for the services offered.
Last year they formed the Loving Arms Charitable Trust, with Jamie serving as chairman of the board and Sharni as a board member.
Jamie also left his job as the Associate Pastor at Zion Church to be a stay-at-home dad to the couple's eight children, releasing Sharni to work full time at Loving Arms.
This year they also achieved another goal, leasing a building in Rickit Rd as a base for all their services and they celebrated their opening in July.
Previously the Budds used their own shed at home and had items stored at four other locations around Waipā district. The packing was done at Zion Church during a limited time when time and space was available.
Sharni says they would never have coped with the rise in demand due to Covid.
To put things in perspective, over the first five years they helped 500 mums. This year they have helped more than 560 mums alone.
And it is still growing – last month Loving Arms helped over 80 families.
"We simply would not have been able to gather, store and pack enough supplies to meet that demand," she says.
Jamie says they feel blessed to have been able to move the Loving Arms operation to one location.
The building is one key to their success. It has enough room to sort and store all the donated items in a manageable system, as well as extra space for two other elements of Loving Arms – Mothers in Arms and Kaiāwhina.
Another key is the trust. Jamie spends about 12-15 hours per week as a volunteer, often networking with businesses and other organisations working through ways they can support Loving Arms.
The board members are amazing at applying for funding and grants from the major funding organisations, as well as strategically guiding Loving Arms forward. Both Jamie and Sharni feel blessed by the work and effort that each board member contributes.
Jamie says the first year of any new charitable trust is tricky, but they feel they have done well.
"Trust in what we do is growing, so we are hoping to have even more success with funding applications moving forward," he says.
Sharni says a major key to success is the team of volunteers.
She has 17 or 18 volunteers, with a core group of six or seven volunteers who give between 12 and 15 hours each per week.
"We could not function without our volunteers, and we always need more," says Sharni.
"Some do heaps of washing, sorting and packing while some do a little bit of what they are best at.
"It all counts."
Sharni says the older generation know a lot about knitting, sewing and mending so they make sure all the clothes are in great condition before they are sent out.
And one woman likes sewing and spends her time creating baby blankets and other useful items from donated goods.
Some knit a garment per week while they are watching the telly and send it in.
Sharni also has one volunteer who is undertaking a child car seat technical course and will make sure all the car seats are up to safety standards before they are assigned to a family, and will also be able to assist with the correct installation in the vehicle and correct way to strap in baby.
"It is amazing how many families do not have a car seat for their babies or children," says Sharni.
Donations form another key to Loving Arms' success.
Clothing from premature to size 2 is accepted, as well as baby furniture, prams and pushchairs, car seats and cash donations.
"We get donations from all walks of the community," says Sharni.
"We were encouraged to put a value on the items we distribute, and this year alone we estimate it to be worth over $500,000."
The growth of Loving Arms has brought about the Mothers in Arms and Kaiāwhina programmes.
Mothers in Arms started about three years ago – a monthly event for mums to overcome loneliness, connect with and make friends with other mums and get encouragement and advice over a friendly cuppa and home baking.
The events conclude with an inspiring speaker.
Kaiāwhina launched this year. A team of four women provide postnatal care to new mums identified by their midwife or GP as needing some extra care and guidance in the early months of motherhood.
Sharni says the quality of postnatal care in New Zealand has been identified as being poor and the new programme is a step towards remedying this situation.
As Loving Arms looks to an even busier future, more help will be needed.
Jamie would like to speak to any businesses or funders who want to partner with the trust, and Sharni welcomes more volunteers and donations of goods.
To find out more and get in touch with Sharni or Jamie check their website www.lovingarms.org.nz or find LovingArmsTA on Facebook.