A new Christmas food parcel distribution model designed to meet COVID restrictions is also helping to preserve the dignity of whanau, according to organisers.
Thousands of vulnerable Kiwis are set to benefit from the new model which will see food and toy parcels distributed via a contactless drive-through model.
West Auckland charity Visionwest Waka Whakakitenga, which helps create pathways for vulnerable whanau to rise out of poverty, says their research shows a surge in COVID related financial hardship is also placing a strain on the mental health of many Kiwis.
Brook Turner, head of community service development at Visionwest, says the new model was trialled last year as a precaution during lower COVID alert levels with a survey showing the in-vehicle delivery process was preferred by almost all respondents.
“We know that before COVID, around 10% of whanau we supported with food parcels were due to financial hardship and now with the impact of the lockdown this has increased to around 60%.
“The impact of this strain on household finances will peak over the Christmas period with many whanau facing poverty for the first time in their lives.
“Helping to preserve the dignity of this segment of the community during this time is critical in helping them get back on their feet.
“The contactless model works by having a team of volunteers place food parcels inside the car boot in a drive through. When we asked those in the trial, how it compares to coming into our cafe, having some Christmas food or a BBQ and 90% said they prefer the in-vehicle model.
“The feedback has been that many are facing their first Christmas in years without a job, or who have been recently evicted and may even have their largest ever debt burden - by providing a contactless service we can help preserve their self-worth when they approach a support service like ours.
Turner says the rising popularity of deferred payment options for goods and services is exacerbating an already challenging situation for vulnerable families.
“We had over 100 new requests for budgeting support during the latest lockdown alone, which is usually the size of the cohort we would support in an entire year.
“We also know a large number of those we help self-disclosed a mental health crisis as part of our initial triage service.
“If your whanau relied on you calling Visionwest for a food parcel it is a significant threshold to cross in their minds and our support process needs to be always cognisant of this.
“We are trying to transform tough moments into cherished ones and uplift the Kiwis who are struggling this Christmas. For instance, we give whanau toys to wrap for their own children. We don't wrap presents so Mum or Dad don’t know what their kids are getting. We’re going to give them ingredients to cook a Christmas meal for themselves.
“We are going to make it a little bit easier for them to create something special for their whanau,” he says.
Allan Pollard, CEO of The Trusts, which has matched tens of thousands of dollars in community donations to Visionwest’s Christmas From the Heart initiative, says their data shows requests for funding are at record levels.
He says hundreds of charities and community groups are struggling to meet multimillion-dollar revenue shortfalls as the impact of COVID lockdowns continue.
“Christmas along with winter and back to school are the calendar centric times of the year which are the hardest for vulnerable whanau and what we have seen develop over the past year is an unprecedented level of community need.
“Charities like Visionwest are on the front line of poverty and it is more important than ever that organisations like ours provide the financial support they need,” he says.