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Mission in mad rush

JOE DAWSON
Last updated 09:24 14/12/2012
Diane Robertson
JASON OXENHAM
BIG MISSION: Auckland City Missioner Diane Robertson with some of the 2000 presents to be distributed on Christmas Day. A huge volunteer effort is under way to give people in need something to look forward to in the festive season.

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Queuing starts early and continues until late at the Auckland City Mission at this time of year.

As Christmas approaches the Hobson St hub has teamed up with Work and Income to function as a one-stop shop to help those who might otherwise struggle to see much festivity in the festive season.

In the mission's front area Work and Income officers have set up temporary stations to help clients figure out their benefit entitlements and gauge their financial situation. From there the information is passed to the back of the building where a team of volunteers are packing food parcels and making up bags of presents to suit each family's needs.

City missioner Diane Robertson says without the donated presents some families would not have any presents to share on Christmas Day.

"For two to three weeks Work and Income come and works with us onsite. It speeds things up so people can learn what money they have and what they are entitled to, and for the families we have been working with all year, we make sure they get a present and some goodies," she says.

"We give parcels to people who have no other resources."

Sadly but perhaps not unsurprisingly the number of people coming to the mission for help is growing. There is normally a spike at this time of year.

The mission usually deals with 500 people a month and that number gets closer to 2000 in December.

But Ms Robertson says

there has been a definite increase in demand for help all year.

In previous years the mission would be there to help families in times of crisis by providing a food parcel or other support two or three times a year.

"But what we're seeing now is chronic poverty where nothing is going to change, nothing will get fixed, they can't pay debt and they will always need help.

"It's a different situation from needing two to three parcels to needing constant help."

New clients are coming through the doors too, victims of the "long grind of a recession".

People who might have had a part-time job but had that disappear, and those who were relying on two high incomes only to have one partner made redundant are also approaching the mission for help.

"These are families we haven't seen before."

So the extra efforts to make this stressful time of year a bit less so are vital.

It's a hectic time for Ms Robertson and her staff and volunteers. They will give out 1800 food parcels in the two weeks leading up to Christmas, categorise and wrap more than 2000 donated presents for the mission's Christmas Day event and prepare meals for an equal number of people.

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Its annual appeal is also running, trying to raise $900,000 over five weeks.

"We try to make it less stressful and make Christmas Day something to look forward to.

"For many it can be an incredibly hard time," she says.

"I had a call from someone who said they can't wait to come to the mission for Christmas dinner because it is the only time they can relax and not be fearful.

"Most people have excellent expectations around Christmas and have lots of rituals - trees, presents, lunch," Ms Robertson says.

"For lots of our families the rituals are about stress and violence and not giving kids what they'd like to."

- Central Leader

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