On Sunday 14 August 2011 Presbyterian church-goers gave more than $70,000 - 365 $200 New World Supermarket vouchers - to homes in part of the red zone on the east side of Christchurch.
“The vouchers were given out to homes with no strings attached”, says the Rev Martin Stewart. “The homes are all in an area perceived as not needing help, so they hadn’t received much.”
After their regular Sunday church service, 130 people from St Stephen’s Presbyterian in Bryndwr, St Giles in Papanui and St Mark’s in Avonhead, went door-to-door to share the vouchers with people whose resources have been stretched more thinly than their own.
Martin says that “going over to that side of the city was sobering. There were many sad stories of struggle and wondering what is next. Without exception those who handed out the vouchers were touched by the welcomes they received”.
The Rev Martin Stewart, the driving force behind the project and minister of St Stephen’s and moderator of the Presbyterian Church’s Presbytery of Christchurch, says, “$70,000 was raised, some donated by people from here but most from far off places like Scotland… and Auckland! Foodstuffs offered a discount enabling us to purchase even more vouchers”.
The idea for the vouchers came in April, Martin says, when Highgate Presbyterian Church in Dunedin, (Martin was formerly the minister there) gave him and his wife Anne money to distribute in Christchurch “as we saw fit. The next day we gave the first $1000 of that money to a young family we did not know, and that we had heard life was tough for, in the damaged Avon loop area. I wrote about it on my blog and then someone from Wellington sent $15,000 - it soon ballooned to $70,000. It has been like witnessing the miracle of the loaves and the fishes right before our eyes”.
Martin says in many ways 365 vouchers to 365 homes is barely touching the need out east in Christchurch city. “It really is like we have only got a little bit of play-lunch to share and there are 5000 people hungry. But we sense that we are not alone in this enterprise. We believe that Jesus’ ‘kingdom of God’ is in this and we simply don’t know what kind of ripple of hope the vouchers will generate in the lives of the people we share them with. We are sure something good will come of it and that in a multitude of ways people who receive vouchers will pay it forward in some way.”