Corps Connect at Christmas
In a time that can be tough for many, The Salvation Army strives to be a light for those needing extra support and love during Christmas. Corps work hard to connect with their communities and help people to feel cared for over the holiday season. We checked in with Blenheim Corps, Miramar Corps, Linwood Corps and the Newtown Centre, to find out what they have prepared for their people this Christmas.
For a number of years now, Blenheim Corps has been supporting families at Christmas through their Operation Gifts for Kids programme. This is a week where nominated parents and caregivers can come to the centre and select gifts for their children. While this is led by the Community Ministries team, it’s a whole-corps experience with many involved in tasks, including clearing out the chairs, making the space look Christmassy and volunteering throughout the week.
Corps Officer Captain Emma Howan explained that over the Covid-19 period, the Blenheim team ‘made the decision to work through all restrictions necessary to make sure [the programme] could still happen while keeping families safe—mask wearing, distancing, volunteers behind tables so that clients weren’t picking up toys they might not take with them, a single flow of traffic and no volunteers to gift-wrap but those supplies given to take home.
‘All these things we felt might make that week a bit like a conveyer belt and less relationship-based, but we were proved wrong!’ Emma suggested that because of the need to take steps to keep people distanced, this often meant someone was waiting, which created space to chat with them and have some meaningful conversations.
This year as the corps heads into their Operation Gifts for Kids programme, they are hopeful they can reflect on what they’ve learnt over the last couple of years. ‘We don’t want to be tempted to rush things back to how they were before, just because we can. We are looking forward to seeing all of the people’s faces and not having to worry about distancing. Being forced to think differently through Covid-19 has resulted in some changes that we believe will make Christmas even more memorable for families in our community.’
The Salvation Army Newtown Centre is home to the Wellington South Corps, Wellington Community Ministries (CM) and Wellington Bridge and Oasis. An Early Childhood Education (ECE) centre is also onsite, which is part of the CM family. ‘All of us work together to make Christmas special for staff, volunteers, ECE children, clients and congregation,’ said Corps Officer Major Christina Tyson. This includes identifying people the corps have worked with during the year who need a little extra support over the holidays.
‘Our Christmas response during the Covid season was as busy as usual,’ said Christina. ‘The need was there and so was The Salvation Army.’ The Salvation Army in Newtown doesn’t provide a Christmas meal—Covid-19 has added uncertainty to catering for many groups—but at least 300 generous Christmas hampers are usually distributed. Allowing parents to choose gifts for their children is also mana enhancing for parents.
‘Last year, some grandparents as well as older aunties and uncles came in seeking support over Christmas, because younger relatives unable to afford Christmas at home had signalled that they’d be arriving on their relatives’ doorsteps,’ added Christina. ‘This caused a lot of anxiety for older people who wanted to help whānau (family) but were on very tight budgets themselves. Sadly, with the current cost of living pressures, we’re expecting more of this stress in 2022.’
In 2021, Wellington City Mission ran out of Christmas food supplies for their clients and so The Salvation Army jumped in to help, welcoming City Mission clients in the week before Christmas. ‘The generosity of Salvation Army donors meant we were in a position to meet these unexpected needs even at short notice,’ Christina explained. Some of these donations came from supporters of the centre’s popular Adopting Families programme, which encourages local businesses and families to donate food and gifts at Christmas.
An unexpected blessing ahead of this year’s Christmas season came at the end of October when 24 people from Transpower volunteered for half a day to help the centre get ready for Christmas. This included doing an inventory of Christmas donations already received, sorting and tidying Christmas decorations (which bring so much joy to centre visitors in December) and tidying the foodbank so it was ready for an influx of extra seasonal food. They also helped tidy the ECE playground, did some work at the Bridge and served clients coffee in the drop-in centre. Some of the group commandeered the centre’s kitchen to bake muffins for drop-in clients. The group left promising to encourage colleagues to sign up for the Adopting Families programme.
The Newtown Centre is also home to the Wellington South Corps. In November each year, CM social workers come and speak to the corps about how the Army will be helping at Christmas. On the first Sunday of December, children decorate a large Christmas tree during the morning worship service. Then, on the second Sunday of December, members of the congregation bring donations of food and gifts to place under the tree for CM to distribute.
Each year the centre’s ECE children practise Christmas songs that they then perform around the centre and at end-of-year events. ‘This brings so much joy, especially to older people,’ said Christina.
Over the years, The Salvation Army in Miramar has had a big Christmas outreach. Last year was a bit different for the corps, but Corps Officer Captain Sarah Green is thankful that they got in before any of the mandates. ‘It was such a blessing to not be under that sense of heaviness or having to be thinking about that in our planning.’
Last year, Miramar Corps decided to have their Christmas in the Neighbourhood event across a number of churches and sites in walking distance of their building, particularly in light of the spread of Covid-19. They’d normally do a trail through the corps with activities for people to take part in, but they arranged instead to use outdoor spaces at the local Baptist Church, community centre, St Aidan’s Anglican Church and Miramar Central School. Families went to each station and received a star on their map, eventually leading them back to the corps hall where they could pick up coffees and hot chocolates.
This Christmas they returned to the corps hall for this year’s event, The Greatest Treasure, Te Taonga Nui, which was celebrated on November 18 to 19 across five sessions over that weekend. The event included a treasure hunt around the corps, craft and Christmas activities to take part in—decorating cookies, contributing to the Remembrance Tree and carol singing. All proceeds from the event go towards providing Christmas gifts and support for families in the Miramar community.
Sarah explained the significance of this annual celebration for their corps and the wider community. ‘Our people and our community love these events to share the special reason for the season. The team worked hard to get everything prepped and ready, with working bees and a team putting up the fairy lights in the main hall.’
Miramar Corps will also be having a Christmas Eve service that their community can attend. They held one last year as well, and Sarah has expressed excitement over a shift away from those mandates for hosting events this Christmas. ‘Last year we had a space for vaccine passes and a space for no vaccine passes, with everything separate for both spaces, so we are looking forward to not having to do that this year.’
Linwood Corps is blessed with a good brass band which goes out into the community during December to play Christmas carols and engage with the public. Corps Officer Major Joanne Wardle has been thankful that Covid-19 hasn’t affected the band’s carolling to any great degree over recent years, and has expressed their plans to continue with it again this year. ‘The community really appreciates hearing the Christmas tunes that bring back happy memories for some and are new to others.’
One carolling event that was cancelled last year was the corps’ Carols in the Carpark. This year on Sunday evening of 18 December, the team will set up in the carpark and invite the community to come and sing along to carols, with musical accompaniment from the brass band and a short Christmas message. This is often followed by a delicious sausage sizzle. Last year, due to a period of heavy rain, causing ‘Linwood lakes’ in their carpark, the corps was unable to host this event, but this year they are really looking forward to this time of community engagement.
Joanne noted that many in their community have been struggling this year, with food parcel demand up more than in previous years. They are excited by the opportunity to make the Christmas period brighter than it otherwise might have been. The corps will be partnering with families to help with food hampers and Christmas gifts. This also provides a great opportunity for corps and community volunteers to be involved with setting up, hamper and gift distribution and further engagement with the community.