St Ignatius Catholic parish has raised, organised and delivered 370 Christmas hampers full of goodies to schools and a religious group who are looking after the parish’s vulnerable neighbours.

The parish is located in St Heliers, Auckland. In 2011, parishioner Jannie van Hees, who was doing consultative work at a Glenn Innes decile one state school, saw a huge need in the local community and brought it to the attention of the parish.

That started a relationship between the two communities, said parishioner Gina Matijasevich.

“We were inspired by the idea of sharing our table as Jesus has taught us,” she said. Mrs Matijasevich coordinates the yearly Christmas drive and is a member of the parish’s committee that helps within the area in which the school is located.

“In the beginning, we were just a small group of young mums who started putting money into an account. All we saw were the children. They were missing out. They didn’t choose to be brought into a world where there wasn’t enough food on their table or a warm bed for them to lie on,” she said.

From there, the project grew. She described the atmosphere on the weekend of December 8 and 9 as “incredible”.

“The energy on Sunday was electric. It was so amazing. There must have been more than 150 people working together,” she said.

Filling the hampers and the boxes before being covered and filled.

This year, the parish was able to provide a hamper for each family in the decile one school and a decile one pre-school and St Pius X Catholic School in Glen Innes. Because the parish managed to fill 370 boxes, they were also able give 100 boxes to the Sisters of Mercy’s Te Waipuna Puawai for distribution to families in the sisters’ care.

Each box contained about $100 worth of food items. A parishioner who is an executive at Countdown asked if the company could help. It was an offer that the parish gratefully accepted.

Mrs Matijasevich said they never really know how much they would be able to raise when they start preparing for this project in October.

“I would just put it out there to the Holy Spirit and say, ‘Holy Spirit, I am relying on you’. We’d just order the food, and the money would come. It’s just incredible,” she said.

A parishioner who heads the operation for a big company organised the production of the hampers. On the Sunday (December 9), there were people wrapping banana boxes with Christmas wrappers. Children were putting food items in the boxes as their parents hand the item to them. Others were carrying the boxes out to the waiting vans that would deliver the hampers to the schools.

“It was absolutely beautiful. It is incredible because there are so many people who want to help. But people don’t know how to help in terms of reaching out to those that needs support and needs help,” she said.

The initiative enabled parishioners to donate their time and their energy while those who were time poor were able to donate funds, Mrs Matijasevich said.

“I heard a child say to his mum, ‘can we do this again next year please?’ That was so powerful,” she said. “Our children are seeing what we do as Christians at Christmas. It’s not just words, it’s actions. They see and they feel what it’s all about. They just loved it.”

Mrs Matijasevich said they have an amazing parish and gave credit to the leadership of parish priest, Fr John Dunn.

“He set the parameters for us at the beginning and we worked within that,” she said. Whenever it was feeling overwhelming, he would tell us to give it to God. “He [Fr John] is very inspirational.”

Mrs Matijasevich added that the key to their success is asking the Holy Spirit to guide them.

“I really believe it’s the Holy Spirit working through us. It’s not us, not me or somebody else. It’s the Holy Spirit working and making this all happen.