Family tight on funds but big on gratitude
It's been a hard year for some households, writes Aimie Cronin.
To many low-income families, getting through Christmas is all about juggling.
Juggling the bills. Keeping them at bay to buy a few presents for the children. The groceries to put something extra on the table for Christmas lunch. The costs that come with children being home for the holidays and the knowledge they need new uniforms in the new year.
Allan Hemi knows all about it.
"It's hard, mate. You've just got to keep juggling to keep the man from coming to the door."
Mr Hemi is a fulltime caregiver to his wife, Priscilla, who had an accident a few years back. They have three kids - Tamati, 13, Allan junior, 12, and Allicia, 10.
Today they sit together at The Salvation Army office in Hamilton.
Allicia hangs off dad's shoulders and her brothers chat happily to each other. They're good kids, says their proud dad.
They're doing well at school and when told they were not to expect much in the way of Christmas this year, they took it on the chin - told their parents they'd try and eat less out of the pantry.
They have all just finished writing to the anonymous person, or business, that has helped them get excited about Christmas tomorrow.
The Hemi family hasn't come along because they expect a handout. Mr Hemi approached someone at the centre about six months ago when things were rough and he needed someone to talk to.
Since then, he has accessed help when he has needed it.
He worries about money.
"Sometimes I don't get very much sleep."
A month ago, he got a phone call to say his family had been nominated to receive assistance this Christmas through the Adopt a Family project that has been running in Hamilton for the past six years.
Businesses or individuals can get involved with The Salvation Army to be part of the project. They find out how many people will be in their adoptive family in the weeks prior, and donate presents and food for a Christmas lunch. The week before Christmas, the nominated family comes to pick up their lot.
Salvation Army director Wilfred Arnold says last year 65 families were nominated to be part of Adopt a Family, this year there have been 114.
"We could have supported more but we have had to limit it. Things are tougher this year for everyone."
Mr Arnold cites redundancies in Tokoroa and Huntly as one reason there is more hardship in the region. That, and the fact that often commercial decisions are made at the end of the year, leaving people without work right on Christmas.
In another corner of the Sallies building, people are busy wrapping gifts that will be given to families in need.
Counselling leader Marion Hunt has been a chief wrapper all week and there's one special present she is excited to be sending off.
Every year, a new bike and helmet is donated by the same family. They lost their son and see giving the gift as one more way of remembering him.
Only one child gets a gift like this.
This year, it's a 4-year-old boy.
He lives with his family in temporary housing. They were evicted from their house. They had to leave all their belongings and left without a single toy.
Staff members at the Sallies say there are loads of other kids and families in desperate situations.
Living in camping grounds.
Living from hand to mouth.
Doing it tough this Christmas.
The piles of presents lining the walls sit waiting to be picked up by grateful families. People filter in to pick them up and leave in tears.
"It's just incredible," says manager of community ministries Cairine Barton.
"You see families come in and they are blown away by the generosity of the community."
Mr Hemi and his family are. He and his wife have to swallow back tears as they try to put it into words.
"We had told the children we were struggling and not to expect too much. We said: we haven't got money but we've got heaps of love.
"You can't buy that," Mrs Hemi said.
Now they can give their kids a present on Christmas Day and enjoy a family lunch.
They struggle to combine their words to express their gratitude but Mr Hemi sums it up.
"We would like to say thank you to our adoptive family . . . we don't know you, but the big fulla upstairs does."
He points to the sky and smiles with true gratitude.