Food recipient pleased to be paying it forward

Solo mother Nicole Sparks, with daughter Harper (11 months), says it feels good to be helping to feed strangers this Christmas after she went without food this time last year. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Solo mother Nicole Sparks, with daughter Harper (11 months), says it feels good to be helping to feed strangers this Christmas after she went without food this time last year. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
A Dunedin solo mother who went up to four days at a time without food in order to feed her son last Christmas is helping feed strangers this year.

Nicole Sparks said she was eight and a-half months pregnant when mounting bills meant she was forced to choose between feeding her 2-year-old son or her unborn daughter.

''I'd go three or four days without eating just to feed my son.

''You do what you have to do and lots of water does fill you up.''

Out of desperation to feed her children and herself, she asked for help on Dunedin Food Help, a social media page established to connect individuals seeking to give food parcels with people who need them.

''I was so embarrassed, but I was pregnant and I kept on thinking, 'where do I get food?'

''I can't feed myself, I can't feed my kids.''

Fear about the prospect of having to tell her son Santa would not be visiting was replaced by hundreds of dollars worth of food and toy donations from other Dunedin residents who saw her request for help on the page.

''The generosity was huge.

''I was so hungry, it could have been a loaf of bread or a pack of sausages, but we got about $400 worth of groceries.''

Despite a ''tough year'', which included her mother undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, she would get a chance to play Santa this year.

Her financial situation had improved after she moved in with her mother because her weekly benefit no longer covered her soaring rent.

''This year is a bit different. I can afford to give my son what he wants and needs and help others.''

Four Dunedin families who asked for assistance on the page would receive roast lamb, schnitzel and other home kill from Miss Sparks' brother's farm.

She also planned to go shopping for gifts for teenage girls in need, she said.

Paying it forward to people in situations similar to the one she had been in felt ''really good''.

This year, if her mother was not admitted to hospital, the family planned to feast on lamb at a Christmas lunch in Clinton.

Dunedin Food Help page organiser Nic Le Brun said about 1300 people helped one another out on the page.

''People will message saying I've got no fruit for my kids for lunch and someone will reply offering some, so it is just a big pay it forward.''

The page had been particularly busy in the run-up to Christmas and Mrs Le Brun had worked 40-hour weeks with co-organiser Julie Jones ensuring food parcels and presents got to those needing them.

Among the donations was $500 worth of chocolates donated by the Otago Motel Association.

Dunedin Food Help would also work with Dunedin man Shane Waldron, who would give Christmas gifts to Dunedin children who would otherwise be unlikely to get them.

A Dunedin Food Help food parcel would be given to every family whose child received a toy.

margot.taylor@odt.co.nz

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