Report by Major Christina Tyson
AS part of its continuing support for earthquake-hit residents in Christchurch, The Salvation Army in New Zealand is distributing 4,000 ‘Care Cards’, each loaded with NZ$500, to affected households. The project was developed in partnership with Westpac Bank.
The use of the Care Card is at the discretion of recipients, but can be put towards the cost of urgent house repairs or to purchase food, clothing or other goods, says Salvation Army Public Relations Secretary Major Robbie Ross. Cards are limited to one per household.
Payments and grants are available from a range of organisations but Salvation Army workers report high levels of earthquake-related unemployment and material hardship experienced by families as well as a substantial degree of anxiety about their futures.
Money for the Care Cards comes from The Salvation Army’s Canterbury Earthquake Appeal, which as at 14 March stood at $9.36 million ($5.25 million banked, the remainder in collections and pledges).
The Salvation Army has also released a ‘Take a Break’ scheme aimed at giving individuals and families suffering significant emotional stress a break away from the city. Help with travel, accommodation and costs will be provided to eligible people.
Major Ross says the need for the scheme has become increasingly evident over the past week. ‘While our people are seeing many examples of strong community spirit,’ he points out, ‘there is clear evidence that some residents in the hardest-hit suburbs are now nearing the end of their emotional endurance limits.’
The Salvation Army still has more than 100 care workers visiting the worst-affected suburbs to assess residents’ emotional and material needs, with other personnel following up more complex cases and teams of volunteers delivering food, water, clothing and bedding to those who need them. Another team of volunteers has been providing support to the families of those still listed as missing. The bulk of reinforcement staff – from around the country and Australia – are operating in Monday to Friday shifts, with a smaller staff on weekend duty.
The Salvation Army’s Linwood Centre is providing around 800 food parcels a day and other goods, as well as food, fuel and clothing vouchers.
Salvation Army community worker Brent Christoffersen was part of the second wave of reinforcement personnel deployed to Christchurch. He says:
‘I was really blasé about the Christchurch earthquake at first. I did care, but there was other stuff going on for me. Then our church (Hutt City Salvation Army Corps in Wellington) held an urgent prayer meeting. I went home from that, watched TV and said to a mate, “Let’s go, we have to do something!” I really wanted to get down there once I saw how bad it was.
‘Most people were just so pleased to see The Salvation Army. I explained that we were doing brief assessments to find out what people needed and that other people with us would check that their houses were safe to live in. Some people would say, “We’re fine,” but others said, “It’s so good to see you here – you’re the first people to come around.”
‘I took bottles of water to a guy in a wheelchair who couldn’t leave his house. I visited an old lady in her 70s, and there were blankets under her dining room table – that was where she was sleeping. Another old lady who was on oxygen was really scared in case her power stopped. I asked her neighbour to keep an eye on her. One lady said that every time a truck went by her house it was like another earthquake. Her nerves were shot.
‘The welfare of people’s heads and emotional state is going to be a key need now. A guy told me he’d seen a building with three workers on it, and when the earthquake happened, the building just exploded on them. They got out, but those memories are there for that guy and they won’t ever go away. I think The Salvation Army needs to keep on caring, especially with counselling and support.
‘We can’t neglect our people and our communities. We’re not the biggest country in the world, but we’ve got enough people to get down there and help.’
This release is also available through the News section of www.salvationist.org