Salvation Army helps over 15,000 Kiwis with emergency aid over Christmas

Salvation Army helps over 15,000 Kiwis with emergency aid over Christmas
Photo credit: File

Thousands of Kiwi kids have struggled to access basic supplies such as food, clothing and shelter over the Christmas period.

The Salvation Army has helped 15,795 Kiwi children this Christmas period with the support of public donations. But experts warn demand won't slow down soon.

"We've seen high demand for basic needs this Christmas - food, clothing and shelter - and 2019 will remain an uphill battle for these families as they prepare for the school year," the Salvation Army's head of welfare services Major Pam Waugh says.

"Extra expenses over the holiday period with kids home from school are an added cost to families living on low incomes."

Across New Zealand, 14,394 food parcels have been handed out this festive season as well as counselling and housing for 400 families.

The Child Poverty Monitor report released this month found that one in five children under the age of 15 experience moderate-to-severe food insecurity.

Major Waugh says the figures are upsetting but not surprising.

"That's between 161,000 and 188,000 New Zealand children who can't count on having regular nutritious meals," she says.

"It's incredibly heart-breaking to hear children take on the pressure of financial hardship and say they need to find ways to get money to help mum and dad."

She says the start of the school brings even more strain on families as they have to buy school supplies and account for travel costs.

Victoria University clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland says the struggle extends beyond physical needs for children living in poverty.

"Children are the victims of circumstance and can't escape the weight of poverty. Stress on the developing brain can have a major effect on mental health," he says.

"Prolonged poverty can lead to a lack of hope and lower self-worth - major factors in crime and youth suicide."

The Salvation Army is also facing unprecedented demand for its counselling services from both families and individuals. Counsellors see daily the stress of poverty leading to poor mental health, family violence and behavioural problems in children.

"The reality is that the Salvation Army can't help these families without the support of the public. We're urging people who have been fortunate enough to enjoy their Christmas to spare a thought and donate to those who were not," Major Waugh says.

The Salvation Army's Christmas Appeal runs until January 15.