It’s been a very challenging year for Family Store teams around Aotearoa. It’s always busy and chaotic over the Christmas period through to Waitangi Weekend, but this year the pressure is really on for staff and volunteers. With closures during lockdown, many stores will be open every day except Christmas Day to try and recoup losses. Our frontline mission relies heavily on surplus funds from store income to operate. In the wake of Covid-19 War Cry challenges readers to not only shop local this Christmas, but to shop second-hand and support our Family Stores, so we can continue to deliver local missions effectively to those most in need.
If ever a ‘shout-out’ was needed for our Family Stores, it’s this Christmas! National Family Store Manager Gareth Marshall not only recognises, but applauds, the ‘above and beyond’ efforts delivered by staff and volunteers during 2020.
‘To the many who also stepped up and helped out in the Foodbanks while the stores were closed during lockdown, and the intensity of workload you have sustained throughout 2020—thank you! Your efforts are appreciated and they have been so vital for The Salvation Army to be able to care for people in your local community during this difficult year,’ he says.
Family Store Managers Donna Main (Hornby, Christchurch) and Brenda Kendrick (Whanganui) both love their jobs, and agree that while Christmas is always challenging—but rewarding—at their stores, this year there are new and different challenges because of Covid-19.
‘We’ve seen plenty of new faces in the store as the impact of people losing jobs sets in. Life is not as affordable as it was, and the person who used to have a great job is getting by on peanuts now and finding it hard,’ says Donna. ‘We’ve also noticed that the requests for food parcels have gone up—way up. We used to get one a week through the store, now we get them every single day.
‘Coming out of lockdown, we were bombarded with donations—just like every other store in the country. People had been at home and had the opportunity to sort and clean and have a throw-out,’ explains Brenda.
Gareth observes that, ‘donations are well up this year and our teams have been working hard to keep on top of processing what has seemed like a sustained ‘Christmas-rush’ throughout the year. This has resulted in a good supply for those families that have found life difficult, with the double impact being the increase in funds for our mission services.’
Donna concurs when it comes to this ‘double impact’. ‘I love the fact that on one hand there’s the donors giving to us, and then on the other hand through our selling of their goods, we can raise a surplus to increase the funding for Salvation Army programmes.’
A few weeks ago, Donna had the joy of calling a woman who’d put some items through on welfare and telling her they were ready to pick up. ‘The squeals of glee on the other end of the phone—she was just so happy and thankful, it nearly made me cry. It’s unreal being able to be part of something that seemed so simple, but was big for her. I’ve been fortunate enough to do okay in life, and it’s so rewarding to help people with the basics they need to live.’
Both Donna and Brenda are alert to the stress their customers are carrying. ‘Since lockdown, people have been a bit short and we know it’s just stress. We have to take a step back and remind ourselves that it’s rough out there for a lot of people at the moment. There’s been so much change in people’s circumstances. They’re not angry at us, they’re just processing and dealing with a heck of a lot of change,’ explains Donna.
At the Whanganui store, Brenda and her team are also treading carefully. ‘We remind ourselves every day that we don’t know the life story of the people coming through the door. We don’t know what they faced yesterday or what’s on their plate today. If people are a little bit agitated, or even a bit angry, it’s about showing grace. Sometimes it’s just a case of asking: ‘Hey are you okay?’ and that’s all some people need. You can sense that they feel it’s okay because someone’s noticed me today.’
A simple Christmas
Brenda’s finding that a lot of customers are wanting to shop differently this Christmas because of Covid-19. ‘People’s situations have changed because of lockdown, and they’re wanting to simplify their Christmas in general. Some are saying openly that the lockdown period gave them the chance to re-evaluate their lives—how they’re living and what’s really important to them. There’s this realisation that ‘stuff’ is not as important as people. Some say they’re shopping second-hand out of a desire to support the various charities around town. Others are definitely protesting commercialism and for others it’s about affordability.’
Donna says Cantabrians are taking more notice of waste.
‘A lot of people are now being more thoughtful about how they shop in terms of waste—people don’t want to be so wasteful and so they’re shopping second-hand. Others simply want to support the cause of the Sallies to help their community. And of course, we’re making Christmas affordable for people who can’t shop in certain stores because the prices are out of their reach. Christmas has become so commercialised, it really is just over the top for many,’ she reflects.
In Whanganui last year, Brenda met a family who had agreed that they would buy all their gifts for each other from local charity shops. ‘They were busy hunting high and low throughout the various stores in town, including ours, and the feedback we got afterwards was that the family had a ball buying their gifts,’ reports Brenda.
In Hornby, Donna has observed families coming in and teaching their children about donating. ‘Parents bring the kiddies in, and they explain to them that if they want new toys, they need to bring in some they don’t play with so much for someone who might not get as many new things as them. That’s a really nice way of explaining things to kids,’ says Donna.
Abundant, affordable and spectacular
‘We have a bit of a reputation around town for stocking great Christmas decorations and cheap Christmas trees,’ boasts Brenda. ‘Our customers start asking in mid to late October when the Christmas stuff is coming out! We get spectacular stuff that we can sell at affordable prices.’
Donna says that Hornby customers are also looking for decorations, as well as kitchenware. ‘People are looking for big dessert bowls, platters, fancy dishes and table runners—things we don’t sell a lot of during the year—and of course Secret Santa gifts. We put out little toys as stocking fillers and people come in especially looking for them. I think some parents would be lost without their “Sallies stocking fillers!”’
In Whanganui there’s no Kmart, and so Brenda and her team have developed a special tradition: ‘We do our own local version of the ‘wishing tree’. We set up the tree with little tags on it and people come in and take a tag and then go out and buy a gift—sometimes from the store—and then place it under the tree. We take all the wishing tree gifts down to Community Ministries,’ she explains.
The human connection
Family Stores also play another special role in communities in the lead-up to Christmas. ‘At Christmas you do have to take things a bit slower and give customers some time. There are some that come in and you can tell they’re just a little bit lost at this time of year. Some don’t have big families, or they’re not close by. So, we just try and take it slow and be aware—we don’t mind at all,’ says Donna.
Brenda says it’s similar in Whanganui. ‘We see more people coming in around Christmas time just needing that human connection. Some live alone or don’t have family nearby. I’m picturing a wonderful, older gentleman who comes in once, maybe twice a day. He wanders about and chats to everyone. Sometimes he’ll see someone he knows, and we’ll end up with a few people sitting on the lounge suites having a good old chinwag—it’s good to see! People need that social connection.’
The glue that holds everything together
People volunteer with The Salvation Army for all sorts of reasons. ‘For some it’s the social contact, for others they need to do something because they’re on a benefit—there are so many reasons why people join us,’ says Donna. Brenda says she especially loves the people who volunteer because they are ‘like-minded about helping others. It’s awesome to serve not only God but your community, and give back and support it,’ she says.
Brenda and Donna are both emphatic that without their volunteers their stores would struggle. ‘It only works because of the volunteers! We couldn’t run the store without them. They’re the glue that holds the place together—the backbone of the place. If they were to drop away, we would be in big trouble! And we could always do with more,’ says Donna.
There has been extra pressure placed on volunteers and staff this year because of Covid-19. Brenda explains that, ‘we all understand the reasoning behind needing to be open every day except Christmas this year. There are a lot of challenges for The Salvation Army in trying to recoup the losses from being closed over lockdown, and because there was no Red Shield Appeal … that was a big financial blow. Being open over Christmas was a bit of a challenge for my team to get their heads around to begin with, but they’ve really stepped up and said, “Oh, I can do that!” I’m really proud of my team. And being open will give us more opportunities to talk to our customers and listen to them and just have a bit more time with them. You just never know what the day might bring and the conversations you might get to have,’ enthuses Brenda.
A big wave of prayer
A big challenge for stores is organising extra volunteers for the Christmas period and getting them police-vetted in time. ‘Sadly, we have people who want to volunteer but if we don’t recruit in October, we can’t use them. We need the lovely people from our corps and centres who are already police-vetted to volunteer—we’d love their help!’ says Brenda. ‘But what Salvationists can all do,’ she says, ‘is pray for us. There’s a lot of pressure on our staff and volunteers over the Christmas period. Some days you feel like you’re running all day and you get home and put your feet up and fall asleep on the couch! When that happens, you know you’ve had a big day! But it’s not just the physical aspect, it’s the interaction with customers who are stressed, and dealing with phone calls from agitated people. Some people in need ring us thinking they’ve called the centre, and you hear their stories and carry them home with you. So, a real wave of prayer for Family Stores across the country over the Christmas period would be absolutely wonderful!’