by Alison Houston
PENSIONERS, domestic violence victims and families are all seeking more help than ever from Toowoomba region charities as we approach Christmas.
This year Lifeline and the Salvos are joining forces, with the Salvos concentrating on toys and Lifeline on food and hampers to ensure people can enjoy a happy Christmas.
Lifeline is expecting to help 700-800 families (up from 675 last year), with 250 people already booked in for help by late November as part of the Loads of Love Appeal, which aims to collect and distribute 10,000kg of non-perishable food and personal items to people across south-east Queensland.
"It's going to be a very busy month," said Lifeline Darling Downs CEO Derek Tuffield.
"We can't give everything to everyone; we've just got to do our best."
The Salvos' Bernadette Tranter said while requests for help grew over Christmas, as already cash-strapped families "struggle with the expectation of making Christmas special for their families", need was also growing throughout each year, with more families needing help with basic essentials, such as food, clothing, and housing.
That's a pattern Nat Spary, from Base Services, is also seeing at the Basement Kitchen, where they feed 60-80 people every day from 11am-12.30pm, provide blankets and clothes for the homeless, as well as backpack beds, basic food and Christmas hampers. He said requests for assistance were up 60-70%.
The Salvos hope to help 200 families with toys through their Toy Appeal this Christmas, while other families will receive help through the Adopt a Family program.
But it's not just families in need, with Bernadette saying a large portion of those seeking help were pensioners, often embarrassed to ask their children for help.
"The rising costs of living - such as electricity, water, prescription medication and groceries - make it financially stressful," she said.
"Many are struggling to make ends meet and they often sacrifice from their food budget to pay their bills."
Others have taken on the additional care of grandchildren, due to split families, and are fighting to look after them on a pension.
Bernadette, Derek and Nat all identified domestic violence victims - particularly women in their 40s and 50s - as another growing area of need.
Derek said over the past six months there had been a surge of women fleeing to Toowoomba from domestic violence situations, and arriving with nothing but the clothes they were standing in.
"Domestic violence is often depicted in the media as a "young woman's" situation, but this is certainly not the only way it presents," Bernadette said.
She said it was positive that with increased awareness, "families that previously were silent regarding their personal situation are now speaking up and getting the help they so desperately need".
Lifeline's Loads of Love Appeal runs until December 21, with parcels going out between December 11 and 22. Bags can be collected, filled and dropped off at Toowoomba's Grand Central Shopping Centre, Heritage or Lifeline branches.
Donations of non-perishable items and supermarket gift cards (particularly helpful for families with special dietary needs) can also be left at Lifeline shops, or donate online at www.lifelinedarlingdowns.org.au. Donations are tax deductible.
The Salvos also welcome donations at Cnr West St and Anzac Ave, Toowoomba. New, unwrapped toys can also be donated here or left at the Kmart Wishing Tree. To donate to Adopt a Family call 0409159700. The Salvos are also fundraising by gift-wrapping at Grand Central, so get your wrapping done, or join the wrapping roster by calling 46327206.
Base Services is also calling for donations of non-perishable goods and toiletries, or cash donations which are tax deductible. Drop donations at 10 Neil St, Toowoomba, or go to www.baseservices.com.au.
Frances Holmes' famous Christmas lunch at St Luke's hall hits its 14th year, with up to 80 people expected to join the party from 11.30am to 1pm. Anyone disadvantaged or lonely is welcome to enjoy roast chicken and all the trimmings, as well as pavlova desert. As always her message is: "if you are on your own, or life's been tough, you are welcome to come and join us". Please call 0408070300 for catering purposes by December 21 but, Frances, says no one has ever been turned away.
Toowoomba Hospital Foundation, supported by Metro Church, is also running its second Neighbourhood Christmas at St Joseph's College hall, featuring a two-course meal catered by ParisiAnn Patisserie, gifts and activities for children and a visit from Santa. Up to 200 people are expected. There's even transport available, but you do need to be referred by a community group. Go to www.toowoombahospitalfoundation.org.au or call 46166166 to find out more.