The phone rings at 8:30 pm on a Tuesday evening. On the phone is a panicky mom – her family has not had a warm meal in days. The next child benefits won’t come until a few weeks from now and they need to be used for bills. Thankfully Heidi Jaari, an admin for the Facebook group Apuna ry Avustus, is at the other end of the phone. She immediately jumps into her car, goes to a grocery store, and takes the crucial food aid to the family’s front door.
In 2014, Jaari was going through her children’s clothes that were now too small for them. Instead of flea markets or selling, she wanted to donate the clothes to disadvantaged families that needed them. She looked for a suitable group on Facebook and soon ran into Apuna vähävaraisille perheille (Help for disadvantaged families) -group, that Tanja Matthews had started two weeks earlier. The women quickly became friends and Jaari started participating in the group, which became hugely popular and gained thousands of members. The current Apuna ry organization was founded in 2016 and Jaari serves as the chairperson of the board. A third active admin, Merja Rantasalmi, has also joined in. The organization’s Facebook group Apuna ry Avustus has over 5300 members – both voluntary helpers and those, who need help.
‒ We help people in the metropolitan Helsinki area. We have been contacted, for example, from Turku, because people would like to expand our operations. The purpose of the whole group was to create a safety net for disadvantaged people and to bring their poor status into light. We were hoping that society and policy makers would intervene with the situation. It is sad, that instead of reducing the need for help, our help is needed more and more, says Jaari.
Government benefits are not always enough to make it
Increasing poverty and differences in income have driven many families to a desperate situation. Government benefits are not always enough, especially if the family has special diets, illnesses, mental health problems or other challenges. The active model has cut the already small income from many unemployed people who are not capable of working – for example those, who have used up their sickness allowance and those, who don’t get services from the TE-office. Jaari gives a blatant example of the lack of social benefits:
‒ One person who was trying to get food aid from the social office was instructed to contact Apuna ry! The social worker threw up her hands and directed the person seeking help to a humanitarian organization run by a few private citizens. So providing the social benefits that cover one’s basic needs was put in the hands of three active volunteers who administer a volunteer- and humanitarian organization. These benefits should be provided to everyone by the government.
The Apuna ry Avustus -page continuously has 200-300 families that are actively getting help. The families describe their situation – income, expenses, and needs – to the admins. They get a family number and an announcement is placed on the group’s Facebook page. So far, over 390 family numbers have been given and each announcement is active for a few months. Donors and helpers can freely choose the families they want to help. The help can be a bag of groceries, a gift card, used clothes, hygiene products, movie tickets, wristbands to the amusement park Linnanmäki, etc.
Privacy is important to Apuna ry. Only the admins know the identity of those asking for help. Asking for someone’s contact information in the public comment section commits the helper to delivering the aid; those who ask for contact information for no reason are removed from the group. The information is only shared via private messages. The group has approximately 50-100 active regular helpers and the number of sporadic helpers is even bigger.
Bringing together volunteer donors and those who need help is an essential part of Apuna ry’s purpose. In November 2017, the organization got a fundraising permit, which is used to collect funds for food, clothes, grocery store gift cards, children’s activities and summer vacation events, and expenses of charity events. When making a donation, the helper can indicate the receiver of the donation and all funds will be used for that family or function. Getting the help to those who need it has been made easier by the online grocery bag services: now the volunteers don’t have to deliver the food across the city themselves, the help is guaranteed to arrive on the same day, even if ordered from abroad.
Many companies have also joined Apuna ry’s operations. Most business donations are received through existing contacts and direct requests. For example, Vaasan Oy has donated large quantities of bread and KiiltoClean Oy cleaning supplies for disadvantaged people. As the need for help increases, the support of businesses is extremely important to the organization.
“Helping is a civic duty”
Jaari has so much information about people’s need for help that in her own words, she wouldn’t be able to sleep or live with herself if she didn’t do something to help.
‒ If someone needs help, giving it is a civic duty. The feeling of relief when you know that a poor family has food for the next week also helps me keep going. The best feeling in the world was when a family we had been helping for a long time got their finances in order and became one of our active helpers, she says.
Apuna ry’s website is being developed, but everyone interested in helping can find all the necessary information on the Facebook page of the organization and their Facebook group. Both private citizens and businesses can decide to help one or more families or the operations in general. On the group’s Facebook page, one can also donate clothes, items, event tickets, etc. for those who need them. When donating money, one can always choose the target of the donation – and get a receipt, photo or other proof of donation if necessary. Businesses are encouraged to donate leftover food, event tickets, products, event space, or social media visibility.
It is a cold Wednesday morning in January. A single parent and his children wake up to cold darkness. The refrigerator light doesn’t come on and the food in the freezer is starting to melt. The electricity has been cut off because of an unpaid bill. Last month their young child got sick and instead of paying the electric bill, they had to use the money for medicine and a trip to the hospital. One doesn’t survive long without electricity when it’s freezing cold outside. As his last hope, the parent contacts Apuna ry Avustus -group. Within the same day, a private volunteer takes care of the unpaid bill and brings hope to yet another poor family’s life.
Text: Satu Puolitaival