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Wanganui mission targets emergency needs

By Paul Titus

Christian Social Services Wanganui (CSS Wanganui) has two unique features that distinguish it from other church missions around New Zealand.

One is that CSS Wanganui is an ecumenical mission. It began in 1991 as a joint initiative of the city’s Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist Churches. The Presbyterians joined two years later. All four continue to support the mission financially and appoint people to its board of trustees.

Perhaps even more unique is the fact that CSS Wanganui has its own limousine. While this may sound extravagant, in this case the limo is a tan 1989 Lada station wagon someone donated to the mission. City missioner Shirley-Joy Barrow and her staff use the limo to do pick-ups, transport people and go to speaking engagements.

Methodist Deacon Shirley-Joy Barrow became city missioner 18 months ago. She says her key task since taking over the leadership role was to sharpen the mission’s focus.

“We asked ourselves the Tom Bandy question ‘What do we do that our community cannot live without?’ The answer is our ability to provide an emergency response to the community’s needs.

“We are among the first at the gate if an emergency occurs. Our core programmes aim to help people cope with real emergencies. Others are a Christian response to social needs.”

The mission developed this further and identified seven types of needs it could address: 1) safety and security; 2) freedom from pain; 3) fellowship and belonging; 4) food; 5) recovery from fatigue; 6) shelter, and 7) hope and happiness.

In different ways the mission’s seven programmes each address some of these needs. These programmes include a food bank, a furniture bank, and emergency housing. Programmes aimed at providing social networks are a drop in centre and a travel club provide opportunities to for socialising.

Two other initiatives are daily lunchtime meals served at local churches and frozen meals for solo or housebound people. CSS Wanganui also has two community gardens that provide fresh vegetables for the food bank and Friendship Meals.

Shirley-Joy says volunteers are the foundation on which the mission stands.

“If you got them all together in the same place at the same time we have about 65 volunteers. We have four managers who in the past were also volunteers but we are now moving them into paid positions.

“Most of our volunteers are in their 40s and 50s. Only about a quarter are church-goers. Some come to us from restorative justice programmes or community service.

“One of the important things we do is to give our volunteers job skills and experience. Many of them have gone left us to go into paid employment or education,” Shirley-Joy says.

CSSW has an annual budget of $250,000. Only about 10 percent of this is guaranteed income, and that consists of four $6000 grants it receives from its supporting churches. The rest of the money the mission uses comes from applications to government, church and lotteries funding sources.

“I spend a lot of my time applying and accounting for funding,” Shirley-Joy says. “But this is an exciting job because there is always something different to do. One day I will be dealing with an emergency and the next I will be organising an event, training a volunteer or writing someone a referral.

“After I had been here a while I realised the mission could do a better job of communication. When we got a new van and trailer we paid to have them professionally signwritten to let people know what we do. The van is always driving around the city and it is great advertising.”

Another task Shirley-Joy has is the weekly inspirational column in the Wanganui Midweek, a community newspaper.

As part of the its efforts to better focus its energy, CSS Wanganui decided earlier this year to redirect the money it was using to support an assistant missioner in order to fund a social worker. This decision has meant the departure of long-time volunteer and employee Rick Surridge, who was farewelled last month.