The number of families seeking support from the Salvation Army in Bendigo is expected to triple in December, as new figures reveal almost 500,000 Australian children are unlikely to receive any Christmas presents this year.
Bendigo Salvation Army spokesman Craig Wood said the increased demand was indicative of the city’s high rate of financial stress and a lack of capability for many families to provide “a reasonable Christmas”.
“In Bendigo there’s certainly quite a number of families that we are supporting all year round, but certainly at Christmas time the number increases,” he said.
“I think it’s around three times as many families or people we support in December than any other month of the year.”
Almost half the respondents to the Salvation Army survey, equating to 8.4 million Australians, said they believed Christmas was a “financial nightmare”, with 10 per cent saying the holiday season would leave them in “worrying” debt.
Captain Wood said while the salvos’ financial counsellors focused on budgeting for Christmas throughout the year, the demand for services outstripped the organisation’s ability to keep up.
“We are working with people through the year with financial counselling and part of that is always building in to people’s budgeting allowances to make room for Christmas, knowing that [it] can be a financially very stressful time,” he said.
“But the amount of people who are finding Christmas hard exceeds our capacity to help them with budgeting.”
Captain Wood said there were several factors driving financial hardship in Bendigo, including unemployment and underemployment.
“It’s a rising class of people in society now called the working poor and these are people who are struggling to survive on minimum or casual income or Newstart allowance,’’ he said.
“It’s very difficult unless you’re very disciplined in your budgeting and extremely disciplined in how you use your money.
“With rents and the price of utilities it’s a very challenging space to try to survive in.”
Captain Wood said anyone wanting to donate non-perishable foods for Christmas hampers or new toys to struggling families in Bendigo could leave them at the Salvos’ Mundy Street office.
Those who leave gifts under the Kmart Wishing Tree will also assist the Salvation Army.
Gifts under the wishing tree are given to Kmart’s charity partners, The Salvation Army and Mission Australia. To donate, you can visit Kmart Bendigo with a gift and take a tag from the wishing tree.
Spread some happiness at Christmas
COMMUNITY members can help make the festive season a more cheerful time for their fellow residents by giving gifts to those doing it tough.
The Bendigo Advertiser has set up a Christmas tree in its office where goods can be donated for distribution by St Vincent de Paul Society to people and families in need.
St Vinnies Bendigo regional president Tony Spurling estimated the organisation helped 600 to 700 families in the Bendigo, Heathcote and Castlemaine areas at Christmastime with donated gifts, food and vouchers.
“We’ve been very, very lucky with the people of Bendigo, they always come to the fore,” Mr Spurling said.
Young children were usually well catered for with the donations, he said, but there was often a dearth of suitable presents for teenagers.
Bendigo Advertiser editor Nicole Ferrie said Christmas was a difficult time for many in our community, and the newspaper hoped it could play a small role in easing the burden for some.
"Pressures on families in particular are significant during December and January, with the expense of Christmas, and back-to-school,'' she said.
"There are also many others who have difficulty putting food on the table, or are isolated during the festive season.
"It can be a lonely and difficult time.
"For those who can afford to purchase an extra gift, or might be willing to give up their daily coffee for a week, we ask you to consider placing something under the tree in our office.''
The Bendigo Advertiser office is located at 67-71 Williamson Street, Bendigo.