There will be something new in the Society of St Vincent de Paul (Dunedin) gift baskets this year: the gift of an experience.
SVdP Dunedin youth coordinator Jo Bell said that the decision to seek donations of gifts of experiences has two objectives: giving the families the opportunity to do something together, and promoting the social justice principle of sustainability.
“Our Christmas Appeal has been something that has been running for almost as long as we have had a presence in Dunedin. It usually takes the form of donations in baskets at our local parishes,” Ms Bell explained. “But in the last six years, we have run a paper bag appeal which has allowed people in places like schools and businesses to take a bag and fill it up with Christmas goodies which we can collect.”
Often, they would receive little gifts to include in the food parcels, which are always appreciated, she said.
“But with our growing awareness and corporate responsibility for our earth, we are aware of the need for sustainable practices in all of our activities,” she said.
Ms Bell said they also saw the need for families to have some quality time together.
“As parents ourselves, we are also acutely aware of the time-poor nature of families, and the distraction that social media plays when it comes to quality family time,” she said.
“So, offering the opportunity to gift an experience instead of an object just works! We have not asked specifically for this, but have suggested this as one way to support the appeal.”
Ms Bell said that their Christmas Appeal had always been geared towards letting people in the community “know that they matter”.
“It really is an incredibly stressful time of year for everyone and, with financial pressures, food insecurity and the rising cost of living, we are seeing more and more people unable to make ends meet. This is one way we can stand in solidarity with them, and hopefully lessen the stresses for the parents,” she said.
Their food parcels contain a standard three-day food package which includes chicken, gravy, treats like chocolate or pudding, tins of fruit, and gifts for the children.
“So far, we have received some generous donations of food from some of our local schools, who have also gifted us some activity experiences, like Moana Pool swim-and-slide and Megazone,” she said.
They also expect to get vouchers for Clip-and-Climb, movies, and the Chinese Gardens.
SVDP Dunedin organised a time to deliver the goods in the week leading up to Christmas.
“This personal connection also reinforces the value we put on relationships,” she said.
Ms Bell said that SVdP founder Frederick Ozanam highlighted the need to focus on relationships, and not just acts of service.
She recounted that one of Blessed Frederick’s first social justice actions was, together with his friends, supplying a gentleman with wood for his fire.
“Frederick noticed that what was appreciated more than the supply of wood was the gift of friendship and the recognition of human dignity that occurred during the time spent together in conversation,” Ms Bell said.
“Our faith is also founded on the loving relationship in the Trinity, so it is a no-brainer that we try to lean into this when we reach out a helping hand.”