Thursday, May 9, 2024

A mum making a difference.

When Jules McMillan was a child, even though some Kiwi families were financially stretched, they managed. “I’m lucky that I grew up in the ’80s, because you could have a single-income family. Back in the day, a family could have a typical job, with one income, and you could feed your kids, pay your mortgage, pay your bills.” 

Jules is now a mother herself – of Nina (8) and Hugh (6) – and she works as Branded Partnership Manager at our Principal Partner, Meridian Energy. Reflecting on the difficulties that Kiwi families face these days, she says, “If I was growing up now, the way I grew up then, I’d be going to a KidsCan partner school. Now you’ve got two-parent families working two plus jobs each, and they still can’t pay for the bare necessities.”  

When Jules thinks about child poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand, she feels heartbroken: “I mean, my husband and I work hard, but so do these other parents who can’t make ends meet. They’re not sitting on their laurels.” She also feels very lucky: “My kids can come home and go, ‘Mum, my shoes are too small.’ And I go, ‘OK cool. Whatever you need, I can afford to do’.” 

Jules hears tales of hardship first-hand. Like many Meridian staff, she has spent hours volunteering in KidsCan’s partner schools. While the stories are hard to hear, she finds it incredibly rewarding to be making a difference.  

“When you see the kids, and you see the full lunchboxes or the KidsCan shoes or the jackets – and the smiles – that's what re-sets you. As a Mum, I feel quite humbled but also hopeful when I walk into a KidsCan partner school. All the adults there are just so inspiring – they're just good Kiwis. And the kids are happy, engaged, playing.  And then you hear some of their stories – like, that they come to the school in the holidays to eat, because they don’t have enough food at home.” 

Meridian volunteers also help get KidsCan food to schools, by packing orders in our warehouse each term.  When Jules first walked in, her eyes popped.  “You realise the magnitude of the support that KidsCan gives. It’s floor-to-ceiling jackets, shoes, food. You go, ‘holy moly’!” As she was packing pallets, the lack of waste also struck her: “The support that KidsCan gives schools is bespoke – it's not cookie cutter. This school needs X, so we’re going to give them X. They don’t need jackets, so we won’t send those. That allows KidsCan to get to more schools.” 

Jules has worked for Meridian for 19 years; for 11 of those, Meridian has been KidsCan’s Principal Partner. As part of her role nurturing this partnership, she’s seen Meridian staff plant trees in school orchards, organise stationery collections, run inspirational trips to power stations for girls interested in careers in infrastructure industries, and even skydive.  

“It’s incredibly powerful to see that it’s not just us writing a cheque every year. It’s all the extras that I’m most proud of.”  An example of this: when a local principal spoke at Meridian, Jules’ 21-year-old colleague (“She’s awesome!”) decided she wanted to do more to help. So, she put together a business case, and Meridian started providing Christmas lunches at his school. 

Not content with the incredible impact she has in her job, Jules also decided to become a monthly donor to KidsCan. “My $30 a month – over a year, that’s a child fed at school, and provided with a raincoat, shoes and socks. You’re making a practical, tangible difference to these kids’ lives.” 

Particularly important for Jules is that the children receiving KidsCan support are relieved of the burden of anxiety that child poverty brings. “You’re just letting the kids be kids. Because they’re not worried about where the next meal is coming from. A principal I spoke to said that when kids don’t have food certainty, that's all they think about: where’s my next meal coming from? It’s survival. So that’s what KidsCan enables these kids to do – to thrive, not stay in survival mode.” 

She knows that the impact of this support is long-lasting and far-reaching. “Whatever amount per month you’re putting in, that helps KidsCan to do the work that they do, which enables these kids to learn, retain information, pass tests, to get to university, which then opens a world of endless possibilities. And then, they give back to New Zealand.” 

Jules’ philosophy? “Together, we have the power to make a difference. It makes me incredibly proud that the company I work for, the job that I do, is directly contributing to creating a brighter future for these kids.” 

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