It’s called ‘God’s Present, God’s Presence Evening’ and it began with a garage full of items a set of Upper Hutt triplets had grown out of.
It was about five Christmases ago when the triplets’ mother, Tracy Joplin, asked Raewyn Rowney if she knew anyone she could pass the toys, clothes and books on to.
The items soon filled Raewyn’s garage so she turned her house into a shop one evening where people could come to choose for free and wrap the items Tracy and husband, David, had donated.
About the same time, Raewyn had met a family with six children when they were walking through the grounds of her church, St John’s Anglican on the corner of Fergusson Drive and Moonshine Road.
The mother said things were not looking good for Christmas so Raewyn invited her to choose some of the items donated by Tracy and David who also belong to St John’s.
So Raewyn invited more people and laid on cakes and coffee and supplies of wrapping paper.
The last of the guests headed home around midnight, laden with Christmas gifts for their children.
The following year Raewyn mentioned how successful the event had been. Tracy and David and their children were keen to do it again by donating more items their children had grown out of.
“I said it was so good we should make it a parish event and hold it in our church hall,” Raewyn says.
And so they did.
Raewyn says the number of donated goods was a surprise.
“We were all blown away by the volume and quality of goods donated.
Because everyone got the vision.”
The seven R’s
Its slogan is ‘Recycle Reuse Re-gift Restore Receive Rejoice Reach out’.
This year about 100 people, including helpers, attended to choose items to give as Christmas presents.
Raewyn is always amazed at the generosity of supporters.
Among supporters is a woman in her 90s. With no descendants of her own, she spends the year buying new items for the presents evening. Another has made fabric bunting to decorate girls’ bedrooms.
“I’m amazed at how generous people have become. It’s the Christmas thing I really look forward to,” Tracy says.
At first, people outside of the church didn’t believe they could ‘shop’ for free items and didn’t go in. But those who did go along told others, who then turned up for the second night.
On the church calendar
Since then the parish has made it an annual event on the church calendar to kick off the Advent countdown to Christmas Day.
A key to its success is issuing everyone currency of six gold beads to start the evening’s shopping and make their purchases. When everyone has used up their beads, shopping becomes unlimited.
One bead buys one item. Beads are also issued to helpers, which puts everyone on a level playing field, although helpers are told they have no obligation to shop. Some of the current helpers were originally present recipients.
“There is nothing worse than feeling like a charity case because you are going through a hard time,” Raewyn says.
She says lots of people can find themselves in a hard place because they have; for example, temporarily lost their jobs but they still have to do Christmas.
The whole parish finds people to invite along through their networks.
All of us know people going through a hard time.”
As for donated items, Raewyn says they are finding many locals downsizing their homes or possessions have treasures that their own families are not able to accept. Instead, the locals bring the treasures along to the evening because they know they will go to someone who is really keen to have them.
For those especially sought-after items this year, including porcelain dolls and a train set, interested people put their names down and a draw is made.
The event has also attracted support from juniors at Hutt International Boys’ School (HIBS) and St John cadets. HIBS students brought along half a van load of gifts, including scooters and books. Many had been bought new for the event.
Items not taken away are offered to the Wednesday morning Fruit, Bread and Vege run group and the Twinkletoes preschool music and play group, which use the St John’s hall over the next two days.
Raewyn’s even had a six-year-old girl from a family who helped offer to take over running the event when she grows up.
Raewyn says people who attended for the first time were busily thinking about who they could invite next year.
“Although we put out invitations widely, the people who attend still seem to be mainly those who know someone connected to the church or an event, or who are attached to a group, so the networking invitation process is vital.”
“The Wellington Maori Choir provided background music and so enjoyed the event they have offered to sing next year,” Raewyn says.
How has the event changed people?
“The thing I love is the fact that God has to be in charge, you can’t drive it. You have to trust God and work as a congregation to be the body of Christ,” Raewyn says.
“It is lovely to see how all our parish groups and hall users come together for the evening. I know of no other activity that shows what you can do as a group when we all work together.
I particularly liked how people have grown in confidence and into leaders through the event.”
And the future?
“We have to take it each year and see where God is leading us,” Raewyn says.
“So far each year the event has gone from strength to strength and has had a flavour unique to that year.”
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For more information:
St John’s Anglican website click here
For inquiries about the event email [email protected] ph 022 600 5306.