Gabe Ralph and Claire Turner originally named themselves the Hutt Hamper Elves but 10 years later after raising almost a million dollars the Christmas Angels could be more appropriate.
What began as a Christmas hamper project for a few families in the Lower Hutt suburb of Stokes Valley now covers most of the Wellington region. Last year it did more than 1400 hampers and this year the target is almost 1800, each valued at $150.
Now a charity called Nourish Trust, it was begun in 2014 by Gabe and Claire who are long-time friends and business partners.
Its goal is to make life easier over the festive season and bring some sparkle for families during what can be a challenging time.
Recipients say the hampers have made a huge difference for their families at Christmas.
Sparked by a poverty forum
Back in 2014 Claire attended a poverty forum in Wellington. But it lacked a call to action so she phoned a friend who was a principal who connected her to a school where she became a volunteer helper.
Claire noticed how many of the children were helped by the charity KidsCan. She also noticed a lot of children didn’t have much for lunch.
Christmas was approaching and Claire thought “how cool it would be if I could do Christmas hampers”, her goal was to fundraise for five hampers but the result was 21.
“I had no expectation so I was blown away,” says Claire.
Next year they managed 42 hampers.
It was still a low-key operation relying on donations of food and money but Claire says that when people found out they wanted to be involved.
Soon Gabe was contacting schools around the Hutt Valley, Wellington City, Porirua and the Kāpiti Coast to ask if there were families they could do hampers for.
We never aimed to be what it became,” Claire says.
“People love getting behind it when they see how it impacts our community,” says Gabe.
A way to show some love
Claire says the hampers are a way of showing some love.
“That someone is thinking of them,” adds Gabe.
After three or four years they became concerned with the amount of money being handled and set up a charitable trust for transparency and accountability.
Until Covid lockdowns and alert levels began, volunteers packed the hampers and delivered them to schools.
In 2020 because of Covid restrictions, Claire and Gabe started to outsource the packing of the family hampers which are delivered to schools by volunteers. There are about 100 volunteers who are family and friends, sponsors and business contacts.
The result has future-proofed the operation which grew to 1400 hampers in 2022 and is still climbing.
Each hamper includes a dozen eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables, toilet paper, chippies, chocolate biscuits, treats and pantry staples such as pasta, rice, noodles, jam, Milo and Weetbix.
No free lunches when school’s out
Gabe says Christmas is an expensive time for families. When children are at school, many belong to breakfast clubs or receive free lunches.
That ends when the school year finishes.
Gabe believes the increased demand for the hampers is a mix of knowing they are available, the impact of Covid and now the higher cost of living.
She says this year families are finding it tougher than ever.
Claire says Nourish was fortunate through Covid lockdowns because some businesses fared better than they expected and were able to keep going and then pass their support onto the charity.
But in 2023 businesses have been doing it tough too, she says.
Grant funding has been drying up, partly due to higher demand and lower interest rates, and groceries have become more expensive, Claire says.
Gabe says New Zealand has faced several tragic events this year which have led to more demands on fundraising.
Business sponsors ‘amazing’
However, the trust has an “amazing” group of business sponsors, Claire says. The trust applies for a lot of grants and gets some funding from community boards. Charity auctions have also raised money.
Individual supporters fund-raise through baking sales and movie nights and schools help with non-uniform days.
These days Nourish Trust seeks donations of money rather than food.
The aim for Christmas 2023 is 1780 hampers, each comprised of two large boxes, a total cost of $267,000 which the women say sounds frightening when they realise it is more than a quarter of a million dollars.
They have raised all but $70,000 and if they fall short of the goal, the backup plan is to do fewer hampers.
But so far that plan has never been needed.
The women emphasise 100 per cent of donations go towards hampers because they have no overheads such as rent or wages.
Each year’s planning begins in late January and in the middle of the year they survey the schools to get their target number.
The schools always say the hampers made a big difference for their families, Gabe says.
Feedback comments show the impact the hampers make for the families who receive them.
One mother wrote: “I am one of the many families to receive a Xmas box of food. I am so entirely grateful for the boxes of food with fruit and veg. I went shopping at Countdown just yesterday to only have my card decline.
“I was so embarrassed and thought what on earth am I going to do … I am so overwhelmed by the gift. My words can’t express the appreciation, but it has brought happy tears to my eyes.”
Another parent wrote:
“Thank you so much for this generosity of the hampers We were going to have a ‘grinch like’ Christmas this year but now we can treat our kids to something special. This has made a massive difference to us.”
And from another:
“We won’t have to shop this week now so I can get my kids a small present each for Xmas – THANK YOU SOOOOO VERY MUCH.
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For more information:
Donations can be made via the trust’s Givealittle page
https://dailyencourager.co.nz/hampers-bring-sparkle-over-expensive-festive-season/ Hampers bring sparkle over expensive festive season