“We would have made do,” she smiles, “but because they’ve been through so much, and have already missed out on some Christmases altogether, you just want to make it really special.”
Lisa and her husband first connected with The Salvation Army through a regular grandparents support group run by a rural Salvo corps (church). Pete*, the Salvos volunteer who runs the group, plus the emergency relief at the service, is also a grandparent carer (it is estimated there are currently around 50,000 families in Australia headed by grandparents).
The support group is a lifeline to grandparents who often don’t fit in with younger parents; whose older friends are out travelling and enjoying independence; or out making money at the peak of their careers.
“It is just lovely to have a group of people you can talk to and have a laugh with who are going through the same thing,” says Lisa, who has taken on the additional role for much of the past seven years. “It can get lonely at times, and just exhausting.”
Pete also referred the family to an annual grandparents camp run by another charity, which gives them some respite.
Like so many full-time grandparent carers, Lisa gave up work, sold her home to move to a quieter country area, and put aside her dreams of travel to raise her three grandsons—all just one year apart in age. Her husband left a good job to get the boys away from the dangers they were facing in Sydney, but now earns significantly less as a casual.
The boys, Lisa says, are “beautiful, amazing kids” who have faced some serious challenges in their young lives.
“My daughter does not drink or take drugs, works and pays her bills, but was bringing very dangerous people into their lives. Her ex, their father, was very violent too.
“My mum was a single mum and we had a very rough, dangerous upbringing. Of course I went on to make mistakes that affected my kids. I still remember that my mum couldn’t protect us, which is why I’m so protective of the grandkids. The cycle has to stop.”
Every year the couple try to make Christmas a special time for the kids; but with rent, school costs and everyday living, it can be a struggle. They had always lay-byed toys during the previous years, but two years ago, issues with paperwork (since sorted) meant their Centrelink payments were suddenly cut off weeks before Christmas.
“It’s so hard when you know they’re counting down the days to Christmas; but you know they might not get anything,” Lisa says.
“The Salvos gave us some vouchers. They gave me $200 which helped with things like the lay-by and actually put petrol in the car and some food on the table and also some toys. The kids had a ball. It became an absolutely brilliant Christmas. I could just really enjoy being their nan and watching the big smiles as they opened their presents. It was a gift for me too just getting to enjoy them enjoying Christmas.
“Rather than the worst—we had a great Christmas and managed to get down to my brother’s and all spend it together, so it was really special.”
The Salvos helped again the following Christmas and still help with milk and bread weekly. Lisa, who is now saving to establish a small local mobile business to fit in with the kids’ school hours, has also since volunteered with The Salvation Army locally to help give back to the community.
She says: “If I could see Salvos donors—look them in the face—I would thank them because it’s a really, really beautiful thing that they do for others.”