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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Spreading Christmas cheer after a tough year

Goodwill and Christmas cheer are being spread across the Hunter after a tough 12 months.

The Eastlakes Salvation Army branch in Lake Macquarie is hoping to alleviate some of the stresses of the festive period, which, even in so-called ‘normal’ times, pose an enormous financial challenge for families.

This year, the charity will donate toys to children in need and special Christmas hampers to families suffering from food poverty.

Eastlakes Corps’ Auxiliary Lieutenant, Pastor Terri Muendel, said COVID-19 had taken a toll on many people’s emotional and mental wellbeing.

“The biggest thing we’ve noticed is the mental pressure on people and the isolation, that’s probably been the hardest thing for people this year,” she said.

“Particularly when you can’t gather, such as our church family couldn’t gather for a long time – that really takes its toll on people and there’s a grief in that disconnection.”

Research undertaken as part of the Salvation Army’s Christmas Appeal revealed more people were feeling anxious (32%), depressed (25%), lonely (29%), stressed (36%), and more uncertain (38%) when compared with last year.

It also highlighted that 5.1 million Australians (26%) were concerned about being able to pay for Christmas expenses this year compared to 2019, with 23% feeling pressure to spend more than they could afford.

Pastor Muendel said 150 families had registered to receive children’s toys that were donated to the charity.

“People come through and pick out whatever they need for their kids at Christmas time – it’s all free,” she said. “And we like to let them choose so there’s dignity in that for them.

“I had to go to Lake Munmorah and Newcastle [Permanent] to pick up six trolley loads of toys from one lady, so people are being incredibly generous.”

Apart from the toy and hamper donations, Eastlakes will also conduct a three-day ‘Avenue of Trees’ event.

Pastor Muendel said the branch had been inspired by a New Zealand chapter of the Salvos.

“Basically, because a lot of carols won’t be happening this year due to COVID restrictions, [it] hasn’t given people enough time to plan,” she said.

“We wanted to have a COVIDSafe affair that still just brought some joy to families.”

The Christmas ‘Avenue of Trees’ will go from Sunday 20 to Tuesday 22 December, 6pm to 8.30pm, at 360 Pacific Highway, Belmont North. Entry is via a donation.