Just five days into December, UnitingCare Bendigo has already received about 700 requests from community members who need help providing loved ones with gifts over the Christmas period.
By Christmastime, the agency believes it will have 900 or so requests from members of the public doing it tough, who want to ensure their children have a gift for the holiday.
To provide these gifts, UnitingCare Bendigo is calling on the community to assist by dropping off a gift under the Christmas tree in Target.
“Most people see this as a joyous time of year, but for the people we work with, they struggle to provide for their kids… So Christmas is a real challenge emotionally,” manager of financial inclusion and community development Casey O’Brien said.
But it is not only children the organisation provides gifts for, with the agency determined to ensure everyone it sees in need receives something this Christmas.
Mr O’Brien said so far this year, there had been an increase in the number of people seeking Christmas assistance on last year, which was reflective of an overall growth in demand for emergency relief in the area.
It is estimated that close to 10,000 people seek help from UnitingCare Bendigo in a year.
There was a lot of hidden poverty in Bendigo, Mr O’Brien said, and many people living on the edge of financial distress.
He said there were a lot of people working part-time, living pay cheque to pay cheque or living on welfare support for whom it would take only an increase in bills or an unexpected cost to “push them over the edge”.
Mr O’Brien said the people who sought assistance from the organisation represented a broad spectrum of the community, with all ages represented.
He said food was one of the main things for which people needed assistance, as well as utility bills, clothing, and chemist vouchers.
He said there were “quite a lot" of people who sought assistance from the agency who had gone without medication and become unwell, in order to afford other necessities.
Others would put off paying a bill, Mr O’Brien said, so they were able to buy food.
School-related purchases are another common cost for which people seek help.
Mr O’Brien said there were other issues, such as domestic violence and lack of affordable housing, that compounded the problem.
Gifts can be left unwrapped at the UnitingCare tree at Target until December 24, although people are encouraged to donate early to ensure gifts can be distributed in time for Christmas.
Appeal baubles can also be purchased at the store.