In line at the Auckland City Mission

For the lucky ones among us, Christmas is a time for joy, for gifting and spending time with family. But the statistics speak a different story – around 28 percent of this country’s children live below the line.

Outside the Auckland City Mission, hundreds line the streets at all hours of the day and night – and that’s where we met Aileen.

“I was hoping not to have to come in, but just in the last week, things have come up that put a lot more stress on us, so we had to come in.

“About quarter to four this morning we got here and we just lined up and have been waiting. Luckily it wasn’t too cold.”

Aileen was with her seven-year-old. Her other children, including sixteen-month-old twins, were back at home being watched by a friend.

Aileen recently lost her mother to liver cancer– who she described as her support system. Then, unexpected issues with a car in the last week alongside other bills pushed her over the edge financially.

She’s not the only one with a story like this either, the CEO of the City Mission Chris Farrelly knows that all too well.

He’s been at the helm of the operation since earlier this year, after taking over from Dame Dianne Robertson.

“I was expecting, come Christmas, that I’d see the face of poverty quite clearly,” Mr Farrelly says.

“When we started pre-Christmas gifting around two weeks ago, I came to work around 5:30am and I saw the queues of hundreds of people for the first time. I felt something in my stomach, it was like a real kick in the gut, because they weren’t just queues - they were actual people.”

The City Mission has put together more than 4000 emergency food parcels, and gathered more than 8000 presents for children.

Mr Farrelly says it reflects a sobering truth about this country.

“We’ve got real poverty in New Zealand, not just isolated, not just bits and pieces … but covering a vast group of people. The theme that I’m getting is that most of the people that we’re seeing have a very small discretionary income at the end of every week.

“Most of them have 80 to 85 dollars to spend on food after everything else has been paid.”

For Aileen, she’s trying to get herself and her children into a better place financially, studying to become a social worker.

Although, she admits – it’s quite the climb ahead.

“Everywhere we go, it’s like a brick wall.”