More than two thousand Hillsongers have spent the last two Saturdays at Christmas parties with a difference. The event? “Pack and Wrap parties” where volunteers pack and wrap food and toys ready to be distributed for the church’s annual ‘Stuff the Bus’ campaign. The reason? “Placing dignity on families who are struggling at Christmas.”
“The response from volunteers in our church has been incredible,” says explains Catherine Thambiratnam, who oversees Hillsong’s social justice efforts under the banner of Hillsong CityCare.
“We have had wrap and pack parties across 10 locations across Australia so far with over 2000 volunteers showing up.”
Since it launched in 2010, the Stuff the Bus has provided almost 90,000 food hampers and toy packs to over 62,000 families across Australia. In 2017, CityCare distributed 13,811 toy packs and 6,873 Christmas hampers through their programs and their community partners.
This year, whilst physical contributions were still accepted at church locations, the campaign went online with a Stuff the Bus website providing an accessible way for everyone to contribute during a busy season, with food and toy items beginning at just $2 available for purchase. For CityCare, the online system has also allowed the team to ensure that what’s being received is what’s most helpful – especially when it comes to the toys that are given to parents to give to their children.
“Although everyone loves picking gifts for 6 year old girls (unicorn anything!), what we generally need more is gifts for teenagers.” — Catherine Thambiratnam, Hillsong CityCare
“We made some changes to Stuff the Bus this year to increase the quality and consistency of our hampers and gifts. We also want to be able to reach all of the kids that need gifts and although everyone loves picking gifts for 6 year old girls (unicorn anything!) what we generally need more is gifts for teenagers. So this way we are able to actually get the numbers of gifts that we need for each age group and ensure that everyone can receive an appropriate gift this year,” explains Thambiratnam.
So far the changes have been well received.
“We just received this email from the Department of Communities in Perth. It’s pretty lovely and really the reason we made the changes,” says Thambiratnam and quotes from the email. “I must comment that it was not just the donations themselves that impressed staff members here at the Department of Communities but the effort shown in choosing and wrapping the gifts and the shear indulgence of the hampers. I’ll admit to some jealousy that I am not able to take one of the hampers home to my own family.”
Hillsong CityCare partners with over 100 community organisations to help facilitate the distribution of these toy packs and food hampers because they want to be able to “extend the reach” of their giving so that it connects with those who need it most.
“When we work through partners, we can make sure that the gifts and hampers get to the people who need it. It also means we are not duplicating work being done by those organisations but just adding our strength to their work.”
Their partners include Wesley Mission, Mission Australia, Settlement Services International, Multicultural Development Australia, The Salvation Army and St Vincent De Paul, along with some schools and major hospitals, including the Royal Children’s in Brisbane and Melbourne, Westmead Children’s, Mona Vale, Sydney Adventist, Sydney Children’s and Bear Cottage Hospice.
“We don’t make commitments as we are never sure how many gifts and hampers we will be able to provide but our church is very generous and we are always amazed by how much they give,” Thambiratnam says cautiously.