This article originally appeared on the NZ Herald as a sponsored story on 18 Jan 2021.
An Auckland mum was brought to tears as she recalled the kindness that helped her through a difficult time in which she was so desperate she could not afford school uniforms for her three sons.
"I struggled to pay for even the basics," says Rebecca (not her real name). "Their school jumpers were worn out, their socks all had holes - even their bedding was worn out. It broke my heart that I couldn't do more for them."
Her plight - and that of her boys aged 6, 9 and 14 - was eased after they were sponsored by Variety – the Children's Charity whose Kiwi Kid Sponsorship Programme helped Rebecca to pay for new uniforms and stationery for the boys.
"I don't think I can find words to express my gratitude," she said. "I just want to say thank you to my children's sponsors. God bless you and I am keeping you in my prayers."
Variety's CEO Susan Glasgow says Rebecca's story is all too common: "There are thousands of families all over New Zealand who are struggling to make ends meet and the new school year only adds to their financial stress.
Poverty is the constant companion of too many Kiwi kids starting school this year," she says. "The Child Poverty Monitor 2020 showed that one in five children in New Zealand - about 235,000 – live in relative poverty after housing costs have been deducted.
At Variety we recognise that there are many children in need but not all children need the same things at the same time. For $50 a month you can change a life.
No child should ever feel excluded from participating in school life because of poverty; no child should dread the start of the school year because they don't have the right uniform or stationery or miss out on the thrill of school camp or playing school sport."
To help ease the burden for these families Variety is launching its Back to School Appeal and hopes new sponsors will commit $50 a month to support the 400-plus children who are on their wait list.
Two of Rebecca's sons have been diagnosed with ADHD and have regular appointments with specialist paediatricians and psychologists meaning Rebecca can only work part time: "I would like to work full time but I need to be around to support the medical needs of my kids," she said.
The family's situation was made worse after Rebecca's husband had a work-related accident and was unable to work more than five months last year.
All of this placed severe emotional and financial strain on the family. Despite her best efforts, trying to save even $30 a week for school-related costs wasn't possible and Rebecca struggled to afford even the most basic clothing for the boys.
She said the Variety sponsorship couldn't have come at a better time: "I didn't know who or what Variety was, but it has been more helpful than I could ever have thought.
"When the kids got new stuff they were so thrilled they thought it was their birthday. They asked me where the money came from and I told them it was from a very nice person who understood what we were going through and decided to help us.
"When I am in a better financial position I would like to give back," she said. "It's nice to receive things but even nicer to be able to give back."
Meanwhile Glasgow says the cost of going back to school can be anywhere from $500 to $1000 (for high school) and is well beyond the means of many families already experiencing financial hardship.
She says the programme is the only one-to-one sponsorship programme of its kind in New Zealand. An individual sponsor is matched to a Kiwi kid and the funding provides them with the clothing and equipment they need to start the school year.
Glasgow says any remaining funding can be put towards extra-curricular costs, giving them the opportunity to fully participate in school life.
Russell Burt, principal of Pt England School in Auckland, says the programme enables children to have all the things they need to enjoy school and to feel okay because they have what other kids have. "This is a fantastic thing for Aotearoa."
Click here to become a Kiwi Kid Sponsor.