The reality of Christmas for women who are living in poverty.

Woman in poverty

The spirit of Christmas is a beautiful thing.

It’s not even December and already the volunteer roster for The Salvation Army’s Sydney Christmas Luncheon is full. We are a nation that stands by each other – and at Christmas time more than any other time of the year, this is vital.

In my role working as a writer for The Salvation Army, I speak to 100+ real people every year who we support through crisis.

Their stories are sometimes harrowing, always humbling, and a true reflection of what it’s like to experience extreme poverty in our ‘lucky country’.

"The spirit of Christmas is a beautiful thing." Image via iStock[/img_caption]

One woman I spoke with, who relied on the Salvos numerous times to put food on the table when her partner died and left her with two children and a newborn, told me that living on the bread line is like “treading water.”

“You’re trying so hard but you’re going nowhere and your head is only just above the water.”

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“Stuck,” is how many others describe the feeling of extreme poverty. “Surviving but not really living,” is how two others referred to it.

Helplessness is very real when you’re too poor to have options. Because up-skilling is simply a pipe-dream to a single mother who doesn't have enough money for food, let alone further education to improve her circumstances.

Without a doubt, every single mother who I speak to who accesses our services for support with groceries, bills, meals or a safe bed for the night, will tell me that they feel like a failure. As a parent myself, it brings tears to my eyes when I imagine not to be able to provide the very basics for my children.

"Every single mother who I speak to will tell me that they feel like a failure." Image via iStock

As Christmas draws closer, the feeling of failure increases, coupled with the cold, hard rock of dread that settles heavily in the pit of the stomach.

How can a woman with literally six dollars in her pocket to stretch across the last three days of the week afford Christmas for her kids?

One woman laughed with me as she remembered the day when all she and her children ate was a packet of ice-cream cones because it was the last thing in their cupboard before she was due be paid for a basket of ironing the next day. She can laugh about it now because she’s back on her feet, but at the time it was heartbreaking.

She also told me that her children would never have received a single brand-new toy at Christmas time if it wasn’t for the Salvos, because literally every piece of clothing and furniture in their home was second-hand. She just couldn’t afford anything else.

council bans teacher christmas presents

Even the smallest gift donation makes a difference. Image via iStock[/img_caption]

That’s why even the smallest gift at Christmas time to the Salvos makes such a huge difference. It allows Christmas to remain magical for the thousands of children across Australia who will wake up on Christmas morning to a gift under the tree and special treats to eat. 

I believe that something happens inside of us when we give at Christmas time. As a Salvo, I believe in the festive spirit of joy, hope and peace. And when a community operates as it should - those who have supporting those who don’t - that’s when the magic of Christmas truly happens.

Making one day of the year special for a family in severe poverty doesn’t change their circumstances, but so many women have told me that just knowing that there are still people in this world who care enough to give; has given them hope.

Lauren Martin is a writer for The Salvation Army.

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