Christmas hope through dark struggle
Last Christmas, Ellie* and her family were homeless and living in a tent. But this year, with support from the Salvos, they will celebrate Christmas in secure housing.
For many, 2020 has been a year of struggle with natural disasters including drought and fires, COVID-19 and economic challenges, but even through tough times, there is always hope -- as Ellie and her family discovered.
Several years ago, on their way to a fresh start in another state, Ellie, her husband and two children found themselves in a spiral of debt and hardship.
“We had a car accident,” says Ellie. “I needed to get the car fixed. So we ended up staying first in a campsite with no power and no showers.
“Unfortunately I suffer from mental illness and so does my husband,” she explains. “He’s on the disability pension for a previous injury.”
The family moved to a campground with more facilities, buying a better tent, but their funds were tight. “We rang the Salvos and they bent over backwards for us -- it was one of the coldest winters,” says Ellie. “(The Salvos) got us quilts and more, just to be warm.”
From there, The Salvation Army Moneycare free financial counselling service worked with the family, who had become entangled in a cycle of payday loans and pawn brokers to make ends meet.
They were given material support through Salvation Army Doorways and Salvos Care, plus their 18-year-old was housed and supported through a Salvation Army youth homelessness program.
Although the tent was large and the family had power for some heating and cooling, Ellie says there were many struggles every day.
It was hard for her daughter to invite friends over and there was a lack of security and a feeling of danger as strangers drifted in and out of the campgrounds.
Plus, the bills kept coming as they attempted to pay off old debts with limited income.
Ellie says: “Some days, we just fed the kids and had a sandwich or something for tea. And mentally it was draining.
“Our daughter was at a big school and being bullied. Kids can be so cruel. So we moved her into a smaller school and she ended up becoming a school leader in the first couple of months.”
With long-term support from counsellor Sandra at Moneycare, Ellie says the family was on top of their finances by the end of 2019. But they had nothing for Christmas presents.
They were given food hampers and gifts for their children.
Ellie says she is so grateful to donors and one day hopes to be able to donate herself.
“It makes the biggest difference to someone. It’s so hard, especially at Christmas,” she says. “It gives you the sense that your children aren’t going to go without. We were treated like normal people, and being able to choose the gifts, it felt a bit like we were on a shopping spree.
“That was the best feeling, to know that the Salvo Care people were willing to make us feel so special.”
Times are tough, but you can give kindness, joy and generosity this Christmas – find out how to volunteer.
Ellie says the sense that people care, in hard times, is precious.
“It feels like someone is there to watch your back when times are a bit rough. Just before Christmas we had used all our money to pay bills and so it was fantastic the way we were cared for by the Salvos.
“It made us smile – and all because of other people’s generosity.”
She says: “It made Christmas morning so special. Our daughter has no idea that there was a toy drive, we haven’t even spoken of it. So she thinks all the stuff she got was from Santa.
“It was absolutely awesome. And they even gave us wrapping paper and gift tags -- just to make things a little bit more personal.”
And while the struggles remain, they have been supported into secure accommodation.
Ellie says: “Without the Salvos, I’d probably still be down at the bottom of the list for (housing) and not know where to turn. They have, and this will sound silly, but they’ve embraced us and made us feel it is okay. They have shown us we’re not the only ones to go through it. They care and if it wasn’t for them it’d be horrendous.
“I’ve had financial help from them, I’ve had aid, I had the financial counsellor help me too. I’ve had housing support and I’ve not had any judgment from anyone. They are so compassionate.”
*Name and some details changed for family privacy
You’re invited to share Christmas with the Salvos – we’d love for you to join us!