'Not typical' client seeks food parcels

ASHLEIGH STEWART
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2013
Alana Jones
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ

MOUTHS TO FEED: Alana Jones and Howie Andrew with their children, from left, Jordon, 5 months, Samantha, 10, Hannah, 8, Destiny, 7.

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Alana Jones is not your typical foodbank client.

Her husband has a good income, she was employed until the birth of her 5-month-old baby and she is not eligible for a benefit.

But with up to eight mouths to feed, constant rent increases and only about $200 for bills and food each week, she needs help.

This is the second time in two weeks Jones has visited the Christchurch City Mission for a food parcel.

Between Jones and her partner they have six children. They live in a "cold, damp" three-bedroom rental in Avondale. Two children have asthma and one has a heart defect.

She is $25 over the threshold to be eligible for a Housing New Zealand property, and her husband earns "just" too much for them to qualify for a benefit.

After rent, bills and petrol are paid from her partner's $700 weekly income and their $420 Working for Families supplement, Jones estimated they had $200 to spend on food "if we've got it".

Making ends meet was now getting "harder and harder".

"We look back at what we used get and you can't get that any more.

"We've lost internet, phone, TVs - so you can imagine it's like camping. We can't afford the bills."

As well as having six children, Jones has five cats she rescued after the earthquakes and "can't part with".

She said she had "no money to free up anything" for her children. They could not afford school shoes, so they bought $5 pairs of canvas shoes each week to compensate.

It was her daughter's birthday last week, but there were no presents.

"They don't understand [our situation]."

To earn extra money on the side, Jones's partner has been buying things off Trade Me, doing them up and reselling them, and they have been selling eggs from their chickens.

But they are still in the red.

"We aren't poor, poor, but we're nowhere near up there. For that middle bracket of people there's nothing."

For Jones, food parcels from the City Mission have been "amazing", but it would not be long before that option would run out too.

Mission foodbank co-ordinator Mary Wood said after clients returned for assistance three or four times, they would be offered other forms of help.

"Sometimes I do say, it's not a supermarket, and we'll suggest other ways to help them," Wood said.

Work had begun ramping up at the mission ahead of Christmas. About 30 people a day were visiting the foodbank each morning and that number would increase in the weeks to come.

City missioner Michael Gorman said the mission took a "holistic approach" to help those in need of sustenance.

Those who wanted a food parcel would first have a one-on-one interview with a member of staff to assess their needs, talk about their circumstances and offered consultation with a social worker.

They would then visit the foodbank to pick up their parcels, which were "a little bit more luxurious at this time of year".

Volunteers were now preparing for the fortnight leading up to Christmas when the foodbank opened from 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday, instead of just weekday mornings.

Volunteer Janet Peagram had been helping out at the mission for 13 years, and "loves doing it".

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She knew better than most what it was like to hit rock-bottom as she "once needed help myself", and now gained satisfaction helping others.

"I needed to do something for me - it's what keeps me going.

"One of the main things is that people have got someone to listen to them. It seems to help."

Anyone wanting to donate to the City Mission can take donations or non-perishable food items to 275 Hereford St on weekdays between 8.30am and 5pm.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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