Some people do good stuff all year round. We talk to some of the real Santas of New Zealand.
HAPPINESS IN A TAKEAWAY CONTAINER
Serving up two meals each week.
Olivia Stonyer, chief volunteer, Happiness Inn, Wainuiomata
This year is the first time we’ve done a Christmas thing. We’ve prepared 100 meals. We’ve got ham and pork and turkey legs. Someone gave us a big container of fruit salad and we’ve added things until we had enough.
Happiness Inn started two years ago after all the talk on Campbell Live, when it was on TV, about disadvantaged children and I came across a soup kitchen, but I don’t like soup much and it’s more a food kitchen than a soup kitchen.
We prepare meals twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays and advertise them the night before on the Happiness Inn Facebook page, saying what we’re cooking and asking people to put in their orders for what they want. We make about 80 meals a week.
Happiness Inn is here for disadvantaged kids and their families, golden oldies, anyone if they can’t put food on the table.
One day I heard that this man had parked his truck and trailer across Queen St [in Wainuiomata], where all the cars come in and he had a little toddler who needed air. Because he hadn’t paid the electricity bill it was cut off and he’d gone to WINZ for help and they couldn’t help him.
So there he was blocking the way, I thought “Wow, I don’t know why he didn’t pay his bill - but what about the kid?”. The innocent party who can’t do anything about it.
I’m always about the kids, really, I’m always about kids. They’re our futures. We need to treat them right and love them.
We’re always looking for volunteers. What happens is people offer to help when they’re between jobs and it seems like what happens when they come to Happiness Inn is they get jobs.
But you’re not allowed [pointing to the other volunteers].
As told to Marcus Stickley.
A SANTA WITH TWO BACKPACKS
Delivering gift packages to Auckland's homeless.
Mona Nourozi, Christmas goodie bag-maker
When I first moved to Auckland, it was a big shock to see all the homeless people on the street. That was years ago but I finally thought that I should do something. I don’t know why it only occurred to me this year. It’s just so simple and easy to do - but I think it can have quite a profound impact on some people.
I didn’t have much money, because I’m still studying, but I had about a $150 budget. I made up lots of different goodie bags; some that were just for anyone with chocolate, candy and Christmas ornaments. I also made child packs with felts and paper and then I had packs for the homeless with more practical stuff like socks, toothpaste and tissues. There were about 40 packs all up and also two special backpacks. Each one had a little hand-painted card which said “I hope this makes you smile. Best wishes.”
I went out on Sunday evening to hand them out and just walked around town. My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, as such, but I thought it was still a good excuse to do some gift giving. There was one girl on the street who was quite upset – I don’t know what had happened – so I gave her one of the little packets of sweets and she was so happy she started crying.
I asked one homeless lady, "do you like nail polish" and she was so excited and then paused a moment and asked if she could give it to the poor family across the road as there were young kids. It was so lovely to see someone with nothing still giving away their gifts. But I made sure she had some nice things too; I gave her a pack with some fruit, water, toothpaste and things. She took it with such gratitude and grace.
I think [my own struggles] have raised my empathy and I feel that if someone did that for me if I was feeling down or didn’t have money, it would probably be something I’d remember. I feel like we’re also losing human interaction – everyone has become so separated from each other – so it’s nice to reignite the connection.
As told to Mava Enoka.
PENPALS FOR PRISONERS
Exchanging letters and Christmas cards between members of the rainbow community both free and behind bars.
Sophie Buchanan, prisoner correspondence network coordinator, No Pride In Prisons
The Prisoner Correspondence Network (PCN) is a penpal network for takatāpui, trans, queer, and intersex people in prisons in New Zealand. We launched in July this year and so far we have facilitated hundreds of letters being exchanged between free and incarcerated members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
This year, with No Pride In Prisons’ support, we're running a Christmas card drive for our incarcerated penpals, and anyone else in prison nominated by friends or whānau. Everyone is invited to send cards and letters to us by email and by post, and three card-making bees were planned around the country.
Between our card-making bee at Rainbow Youth and our PCN/NPIP stall at Summer Zinefest, we've already got over a hundred cards made and written. More are coming in by post and email from NPIP and PCN supporters around the country. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we're really excited to send the cards in for our penpals to brighten up their Christmas, which is an incredibly hard time to be incarcerated.
Aaliyah Zionov, prisoner correspondence network coordinator, No Pride In Prisons
Reminding those on the inside that there are people on the outside who care.
We were inspired to start the Christmas card drive as a natural extension of our penpal network, which aims to improve the everyday life of prisoners by facilitating positive relationships with people on the outside. Prisons are often extremely isolating places where people are separated from their friends, whānau, and communities. By providing them with friendship, support, and an outlet for personal expression, we aim to bring them hope. We want to remind them that they have not been forgotten about, and that there are people on the outside who care about them.
We believe that this message of hope is most important at this time of year. Christmas is when many prisoners feel the most alone, the most isolated and the most hopeless. It is incredibly difficult to be taken away from your whānau at a time when, for many, celebrating together is most important.
Receiving these hand-made cards lets incarcerated people know that they are being thought about this Christmas, and that they are part of our whānau.
As told to Katie Parker.
STRETCHING KIDS’ HORIZONS
Teaching with play.
Karla Tawhai, volunteer gymnastics coach, Northland
For 19 years, Karla Tawhai has taught gymnastics to kids in Northland.
She doesn’t do it for money - it’s all voluntary - but she loves Kaikohe - her hometown - and she loves seeing its children shine.
She doesn’t need to do anything extra at Christmas time, because she gives all year round.
It’s a Thursday afternoon when we speak, and Karla is rushing about her florist shop on the town’s main street, unpacking poinsettias and wrapping Christmas gifts. The phone is ringing, and deliveries arrive. At one point, from under a pile of papers, a fax machine jerks into action. Customers take off their work boots at the door as she greets them by name.
While she races about unpacking flowers for a wedding bouquet she tells me why she started coaching, 19 years ago.
“The classes are a space where kids - especially the ones with a hard life at home - can feel safe and confident. Where they can be kids,” she says over her shoulder as she walks past her dog, Toots, who glances up briefly from among the vases. Karla’s green jandals are studded with rose thorns from the floor.
She started gym herself aged four, after her nan noticed she loved to leap about the place. At 42, she’s still brimming with energy.
After school Karla studied fine arts in Auckland, then returned home to Kaikohe and coached at her old club in Opua while looking for a job.
Many Kaikohe parents wanted lessons for their kids, but couldn’t afford the 40 minute drive.
So, after pulling strings, calling in favours and getting through a lot of red tape, Karla started taking lessons in Kaikohe about four years ago.
Though she seems busy when we speak, Thursdays are one of her quieter days. It’s Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays that are gymnastics days - making her week a long one. Some parents have asked for adult lessons, but Karla reckons she wouldn’t have time to sleep.
Her youngest students are about two and a half, and Toots the dog often joins in too. There are usually about 45 kids at each session, but there are about 80 all up counting the Opua kids and the ones that pop in and out more sporadically. Lessons are $5 for an hour or $45 a term.
Karla teaches recreational classes, as well as competition level, and says it keeps her young, fit and happy.
The kids learn coordination, balance and the fundamentals of how their bodies work.
“Some kids are amazing - they come in and pick things up straight away. Others find it more tough,” she says.
“A lot of kids are sitting on devices all day - it’s sad. I have to teach them how to run and jump when they come. People can’t believe it when I tell them that. These kids are missing out on life skills.”
They come from tonnes of different backgrounds and they all react differently to the lessons, Karla says.
“I can tell by the way they act what some of their family lives are like. Plus it’s a small town, so I know most of their parents. But I get a kick out of eventually seeing those kids blossom - their confidence just skyrockets.”
Story by Susan Strongman.
BRINGING CHRISTMAS TO HUNDREDS OF FAMILIES
Leading a team that’s delivered 4500 food hampers this year.
Darryl Evans, chief executive, Mangere Budgeting Services
Darryl Evans says 2016 has been tough.
When we speak on the phone, he’s heading back to his Mangere Bridge office. He’s spent the morning transporting some of the 350 Christmas food hampers and 700 presents that Mangere Budgeting Services - the organisation he heads - has provided for families in need.
“I can quite honestly say that this past year has been incredibly stressful,” he says.
“But if it’s stressful for me and my staff, it has to be 30 times worse for the families coming through our doors.”
Softly spoken, with a touch of an accent, Darryl grew up one of eight siblings in south Wales.
“Our home was full of love, but there wasn’t normally a lot of money around, or food on the table.”
He says the Mangere Budgeting Services’ clients are no different.
“The families we work with want to give their kids a good Christmas. But many are living on struggle street - they can barely afford to pay rent.”
The hampers are being sent to people across Auckland and as far south as Ngaruawahia. The goods have been donated, and kids will wake up on Christmas morning with presents to open thanks to Darryl and the team.
It’s not just Christmas time that the service helps though. All up, they’ve given out about 4500 food hampers. The service offers free financial education, they’ve run a food bank for three years, they provide free cooking lessons and counselling, help people get what they're entitled to from the Ministry of Social Development, work with prisoners, and much more.
“No matter how poor you are, education is the way out of poverty,” Darryl says.
Most of the families Darryl and his team work with spend about 60 percent of their income on rent. Some weeks they have to choose whether to buy food or pay for power. Other weeks the choice could be between food and petrol.
“I’m seeing kids being raised on two-minute noodles.”
Despite this, of the 6500 people use the service each year, Darryl believes they’re better off as a result.
“At least 77 percent of our families in the last year have gone on to successfully self-manage their affairs.”
It’s a stressful job, but it’s worth it, he says.
“Overwhelmingly, I get a sense that each day I come to work, I’m helping to make positive changes to people’s lives.”
Story by Susan Strongman.
*As told to stories edited for brevity and clarity.