Christmas Spirit Alive and Well in the South

By PSS | Posted: Thursday March 26, 2020

For many of us Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It is the season of good food, gifts, goodwill and quality time shared with family and friends. But for some Southland families, the festive season heralds in overwhelming busyness, added financial pressure, estrangement or loneliness and sometimes, heightened family tensions. Last year, as in previous years, PSS Family Works’ Christmas appeal initiatives encouraged Southlanders to embrace the true spirit of Christmas and look beyond themselves and their own good fortune, to give hope and help to families in need. Journey alongside us here as we recap just how the Spirit of Christmas swept across the south in December past and the impact it had on those receiving some much-needed Christmas cheer.

H&J Smith Secret Santa Tree Appeal
An “absolutely incredible” response to H&J Smith’s Secret Santa Tree Appeal has meant over 150 Southland families in Family Works’ Family Start programme, had presents to wake up to on December 25.

Now in its 11th year, the appeal lets shoppers anonymously buy an age and gender appropriate gift (for children aged 0-5) and place it under a special Secret Santa Christmas tree in-store. The gifts are then collected and delivered via Family Works Family Whanau Workers to those identified as being most in need, in time for the big day.
Because the appeal had proven so successful in past years, it was, for the first time, expanded to include the department store’s Gore and Te Anau branches.

Family Works Team Leader Karen Willis said a “phenomenal” amount of work went into organising the campaign and the team was so appreciative of the time, effort and care H&J Smith staffers Robyn Colvin and Shinade Goble put into ensuring the gifts were the best possible fit with the recipient children, siblings and carers.

“The generosity and kindness shown by H & J Smith, their staff and Southlanders to these struggling families has, once again, been truly humbling.”

Karen said her team counted themselves lucky to be the ones to deliver the bounty of gifts in the week before Christmas and she wanted all the donors to know that the recipient families were genuinely grateful.

“The look on Mum’s face when she sees us arriving at her door with an armful of presents is beyond priceless”.

“Staff leave with a smile on their face and those warm fuzzies around their hearts that come with knowing you’ve just made someone’s day … possibly even their year.”

Co-ordination and Delivery of Christmas Hampers

Elsewhere at PSS, friendly elves from the Family Works team put together and packed Christmas Hampers from hundreds of donated goods.

PSS Administrator, Kate Sparrow, who organised and oversaw the appeal from ‘go-to-whoa’ said December 2019’s Christmas Hamper Appeal was an outstanding success.

“Thanks to the big-heartedness of hundreds of businesses, community groups, churches and individual donors, we were able to assemble 51 sizeable hampers, more than ever before, to lighten the load of Southland families experiencing tough times.

Kate said the Christmas Hampers included a large array of fresh and non-perishable food items; pantry, household and toiletry supplies; and extra-special Christmas treats – the latter added because donations to the Family Works Christmas Tree Appeal had been so substantial and plentiful.

“The generosity of the Southland community just continues to astound us,” said Kate.The hampers were delivered to families who were learning to create better futures for themselves and their children, with Family Works’ assistance.

And it is very much appreciated.
“We know, for these families, the hampers relieved some of the strain that the holiday season puts on budgets and injected some Christmas cheer into stressful and struggling homes.”“Numerous recipient families have also expressed how the hampers were more than just big boxes of food and household goods. To them; they felt like hope. It showed them people do really care.”

PSS Family Works Christmas Tree Appeal

It seems the generosity of Southlanders knew no bounds this past Christmas.

PSS Marketing and Communications Manager Courtney Forde said the organisation’s Christmas Tree appeal, aimed at making Christmas special for local teens in need; ran parallel to H&J’s Secret Santa appeal - giving Southlanders an alternative opportunity to buy and donate food items, necessities and treats, alongside new gifts.

"People whose budgets often don’t stretch to cover the rent, bus, groceries and/or power bills on a week by week basis can’t afford to buy their children gifts and special food to celebrate Christmas with …. That's where we, and the people of Southland, stepped in."And stepped in (and up!) they did.

The beautifully-trimmed Christmas tree at PSS’s Central Office in Spey Street was literally inundated with hundreds of wrapped and unwrapped gifts, grocery items and goodies - so much so that stacked-high piles of donations were taken to an adjacent room, several times over.

"We were absolutely blown away by the support that came in from the community, businesses, clubs, churches, families and individuals," said Courtney.
“Southlanders really are a very giving lot."

“It was quite amazing to see ….”

The Impact of the Spirit of Christmas: the Spirit of Giving

… So too was witnessing the emotional responses of caregivers when they opened the door to their Family Whanau Worker - arms laden with gifts for the whole family; or carrying in not one, but two, extra-large boxes jam-packed with food, necessities and treats that not only allowed them to celebrate Christmas but also lightened the financial load going through into the New Year.

“Hands-down – this is the best and most enjoyable part of my job,” said Family Works Family Whanau Worker Nerida Hope-Johnson, who has been working with Family Start families for over 5 years.

“Often there’s tears. We’ll see shock, disbelief, joy and yes, there’s definitely relief ...”“But almost always, we’ll see their eyes light up, the head and shoulders lift as their mana is restored and they realise that people actually care, that they and their children are ‘seen’, they are valued … that they matter …”

One of the most touching moments of 2019’s Christmas appeals occurred when a young mother of two returned to Family Works Invercargill with donated gifts and hamper goods – She was, she said, ‘paying it forward’ and reflecting back the kindness and generosity shown to her in former times of less good fortune.

“That is what Family Start is all about,” said Nerida, “... Empowering families with the skills that ultimately allow them to become self-sufficient, just like that young woman”.

Image Gallery