It was Christmas, and Kirsty* had walked an hour and a half—with only a worn out pair of jandals on her feet—to her nearest Salvation Army. It was hard to ask for help, but she knew she had to find the courage.
A year ago, life had been fairly stable for Kirsty and her two girls, aged two and six. But through no fault of their own, they lost their cherished home and were plunged into homelessness. They spent 11 months being moved from motel to motel—at a cost of up to $1500 a week, putting Kirsty into a vicious cycle of debt.
Skyhigh living costs and constant illness from mouldy housing conditions, meant Kirsty was left with literally only four dollars to buy Christmas presents for her girls.
‘But coming to The Salvation Army was the best thing that ever happened,’ recalls Kirsty. ‘When you come here, you’re at your lowest point. Nobody wants to beg for food and not be able to provide for their family, but the Sallies treat you like you’re a human and you have a heart. They’re amazing and they make you feel like you’re worth something.’
Kirsty and her girls were treated to Christmas gifts, thanks to generous donations from the Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal. ‘We got beautiful things like makeup, a watch and earrings, that made us feel so special—things I could never afford to buy for my girls.
‘My little girl got a Barbie doll and it was really cute. To see the look on their faces when they opened their presents, they were so excited,’ says Kirsty. She was also given a voucher to go to the movies, which was an extra special treat ‘that made the world of difference’.
Kirsty is one of 400 families that Salvation Army Community Ministries works with at Christmas time in Glenfield, Auckland—thanks to support from the local Albany Kmart. ‘We have a really lovely relationship with Kmart,’ says centre manager Lorraine Brooks. ‘The staff really take on board the Kmart Wishing Tree and we’re very, very lucky because they absolutely love it and are passionate about it.’
Each year, festive Christmas trees are set up in Kmart stores around the country, and decorated with tags that provide gift suggestions. Customers can take a tag, buy the gift, and put it under the tree—or, drop gifts off under the tree that have been bought elsewhere. The Salvation Army then works with families in need, who are able to choose presents for their children.
Around a thousand gifts were donated from Albany Kmart last year, estimates Lorraine. ‘Many of our families are low income earners, and the majority struggle to pay the rent, power, and put food on the table. It’s absolutely unrealistic to be able to afford presents at Christmas.
‘Special events are very stressful when you don’t have the ability to take part. So when they come in to choose presents we see a lot of tears. It’s absolutely mind-blowing for them.’
Kirsty vividly recalls the first time she came to The Salvation Army. ‘I remember I hadn’t eaten for a day, and they gave me food and paid for a taxi for me to get back to the motel so I wouldn’t have to walk, and I just cried and cried,’ she says.
This year, Kirsty has a job, a stable home, and with the help of a Salvation Army Financial Mentor is saving up to buy her own presents at Christmas. ‘The support I got was such a salvation. There was darkness all around me, and the Sallies gave me light,’ she says. ‘I’m so grateful to them, and to Kmart for giving me the gift of joy.’
*This is a real story, but her name has been changed.