Wendy holds winter warmer items

Winter Warmers appeal overwhelms

When a tornado ripped through her neighbourhood on the morning of 19 June 2021, Wendy Barthow suddenly got a new comprehension of the word ‘cold’.

The roof of her family home was partially torn off and several windows shattered. With the power off, and until temporary fixes could be made, the only place to stay warm was in bed, bundled up in as many clothes and blankets as could be layered on.

Months later Wendy is still living in a post-tornado home, with wrapping on the roof. Other than the windows, nothing else has had more than short-term repairs to date. Despite this, Wendy classes her and her family as the lucky ones. Stories emerged immediately after the tornado of the uninsured now faced with crushing repair bills, or of families in rental situations who had nowhere else to go.

As the service development manager at Iosis, Wendy is well-aware of the plight of families who live every day in cold, unhealthy conditions—not because of a random weather event, but because poverty gives them no choice. Iosis works alongside families like these, advocating for them and assisting them with practical needs.

Winter Warmers appeal launched

Experiencing the kind of bone-chilling cold that she had in her own formerly safe and warm home, certainly gave Wendy a fresh appreciation for what some families suffer through in winter. So, several weeks later when she was part of a small group of Iosis staff making a presentation to an East Auckland church, a sudden thought for a special appeal came to her.

Eastview Baptist Church has been a long-time financial supporter of Iosis’s work. Various members have also volunteered or worked for us in the past. We were at the church that day to give them an update about our programmes and services. But as I stood at the microphone, I felt I also needed to share what had happened to my family, and to explain what it is like for many families during winter who do not have the warm clothing and blankets many of us take for granted. On the spot I announced a ‘Winter Warmers’ appeal,” says Wendy.

“It was not an appeal for money, although that will never be turned down! Rather I asked the parishioners if they would donate beanies, gloves, scarves, hot water bottles and blankets—items some families do not possess and cannot afford. In my wildest dreams I could not have anticipated the response we got.”

Spurred by Wendy’s plea, soon the donations of items started to pour in. Many were lovingly hand-knitted, but there were store-bought items too. One man at Eastview pressed $30 into Wendy’s hand and said, “Go buy some beanies with that,” and so she did.

“We at Eastview Baptist Church enjoy using our skills to contribute to the wider community in a time of need,” says Eastview Missions Committee member Margaret Kitchen. “Following an inspirational talk by Tracey-Leigh Peters and a team from Iosis, we were motivated to respond to Wendy’s challenge to provide warm clothing, hot water bottles and blankets for those feeling the cold. The keenness to participate illustrates how good it is to be meaningfully involved beyond ourselves.”

In addition to Eastview Baptist’s generous outpouring, The Cause Collective, a Pacific social change agency, also donated a wide range of items. These included knitted baby clothes, packs for newborns, socks, beanies, face masks, children’s pyjamas, gumboots, dictionaries, children’s clothing and duvet inners.

Between the two, there was so much donated that Wendy’s office became standing room only, before it was quickly handed on to Iosis frontline staff to distribute to families.

Family stories

One family who benefited from the Winter Warmers goodies had three children under 10 years of age and another one on the way. They had recently moved into a Kāinga Ora home and didn’t own a lot. The kids were thrilled to receive new pyjamas, socks, beanies, hot water bottles and blankets. A bag full of baby clothes was also gifted to the family. The parents were grateful to receive warm, quality cardigans, booties and beanies—all knitted with love.

A family of four, including a teenager and a newborn baby, were surprised to receive the baby knitted cardigans, booties and beanies. They were also happy to get some face masks, which were sewed with different materials and looked quite funky. They appreciated these especially because they were concerned to keep their baby as safe as possible, with the threat of Covid outbreaks constantly in the news.

Blankets and clothing were a godsend for another family who have five children of their own as well as being full-time carers for three other young relatives with high needs.

“Story after story like these illustrated how important and timely it was for families to receive these gifts,” says Wendy. “The Winter Warmers appeal was an outstanding success and we are so grateful to all those who knitted and donated so families could feel the experience not just of the warmth of clothes and blankets, but of the awhi extended to them too. We so appreciate it, and we know they do also.”