The light of Christmas goodness and hope — joy for the giver and receiver
As a young mum who offered to help at her local Sydney Salvation Army church to sort Christmas gifts, Julia arrived ready to pop her (then) toddler Isabelle on a mat with some toys of her own to keep occupied while she did what she could to help. But Julia was in for a surprise as Isabelle started enthusiastically pulling gifts out of bags and helping carry them to their designated areas.
The family has volunteered regularly since. As Christmas 2023 approaches, Julia, Isabelle — and her sister Zoe — share why volunteering with the Salvos enriches their family at Christmas time and beyond.
Last Christmas, Julia and her daughters were among more than 20,000-plus Salvation Army volunteers, who, together with Salvos workers, sorted and distributed 16,000 gifts worth around $1.59 million.
(Through The Salvation Army, over the Christmas period, more than 53,000 people were also helped across Salvation Army social programs, and 8300 individuals and their children were provided with safe accommodation.)
Although aged only nine and six, Isabelle and Zoe overflow with enthusiasm as they talk about helping other kids who might not otherwise have food, gifts, hope and support over Christmas time.
Isabelle says: “I think others should do [volunteering] too. Because it shows how much you care about others and makes them feel appreciated and loved and cared for. It makes their day brighter. I’d be sad if we woke up with no presents. I don’t want other kids to feel like that.”
Zoe wholeheartedly agrees with her sister, saying, “I like helping others. It’s good to do and it’s nice.”
Generational heritage of offering love and hope to others
Julia explains that serving others has always been a way of life for her and her husband Michael who both grew up in Christian homes, closely connected with The Salvation Army.
She says: “Both my husband and I have been collecting for the Red Shield Appeal (RSA) since we were kids. It was just part of what we did. At Christmas, we would join the band for caroling in the streets, or help wrap gifts at the local shopping centre. We have volunteered ever since.”
Find out how you can become a volunteer with The Salvation Army this Christmas and spread the light of goodness with people who are struggling this Christmas.
Julia says encouraging their daughters to volunteer to help others was a natural flow-on from her and her husband’s childhood volunteering experiences. She says that Isabelle and Zoe love volunteering, and have learned that it feels good, but can also mean sacrifice.
“[With the Red Shield Appeal] they helped first with the physical doorknock and then, as it turned digital in 2020, as a family doing fitness fundraising challenges. In 2023, everything was themed around 100 and the girls did 100km of walking throughout the month of May,” Julia explains.
“There were days when it was tough. They were tired. They got sick at one point, or it was cold outside. A borrowed treadmill meant they could walk even on rainy days, and they kept committed to the end goal.”
Volunteering means support for others in tough times
In the lead-up to Christmas 2022, six hours away from Julia’s family, Kim’s family, with three primary-aged kids, was surprised by a message from the Salvos, saying there were donated Christmas gifts organised for the family’s three children.
Kim’s family had not asked for support, but a friend who volunteers for The Salvation Army put the children’s names down.
As a family with Christian faith, deeply committed to helping others, Kim had supported many people struggling through cancer treatment. She did this despite her own ongoing battle with cancer, which included chemotherapy and other treatment, radical surgery and a re-emergence of the cancer after an all-clear (before another all-clear).
Over a number of years, this meant a great deal of lost work as Kim and her husband had to drive long distances for treatment, surgery and more.
Kim says she was reluctant at first to accept gifts and would only say yes if her family were last on the list.
After receiving a large bag of toys, Kim says what she most loved about the experience was telling the kids where the presents came from.
“I didn’t hide it and pretend they were from us. I told them about the hearts of other people in the community who donate gifts through people like The Salvation Army, so children with less can be spoiled at Christmas time.
“Life has been hard, but in the dark times, blessings have come from many directions. The care and thoughtfulness from the Salvos, donors and volunteers meant more to our family than the actual gifts,” she says.
“It is so lovely to know there are amazing souls out there. They do exist. Our prayer as a family is that the volunteers and gift givers are just as blessed as the receivers!”
Volunteering brings joy and shines hope
Julia says she and her family are looking forward to volunteering again as a family this Christmas and she is so happy Isabelle and Zoe are committed to helping and supporting others. They now actively and enthusiastically look for ways to care for others and also show random acts of kindness.
“You should never underestimate what kids can do just because they are young,” Julia says.
“They love helping out at Christmas time to sort the toys because it’s fun but also because they recognise how much they have and how other kids don’t have that. They love Jesus and know that the Bible calls us to do good works out of our love for Jesus.
“It doesn’t cost us anything to sort out toys at the collection sites. But it gives us so much satisfaction and joy, and it blesses others in immeasurable ways.”
Celebrate God’s good gift of Jesus this Christmas at your local Salvos.