Cold comfort Christmas for tens of thousands of Finns

For a rich western country, Finland has a growing poverty problem which is highlighted at Christmas.

Bags of essential food aid wait for collection by low-income families at Christmas 2018 / Credit: @Linnainmaki Twitter

Charities have been helping tens of thousands of low-income Finns with Christmas necessities again this year, as childhood poverty grows.

At Helsinki’s Messukeskus more than 1400 guests were welcomed to the tenth annual Christmas dinner provided by good Samaritan Heikki Hursti and his charitable foundation.

The event is for low-income people in the capital city region, and people who might be alone at Christmas, and offers singing, hot food, company and conversation on Christmas Eve.

Some 200 volunteers also came to the event to serve the food, which was donated by Finnish businesses.

Hursti has been running a food bank in east Helsinki since 2005 and every week thousands of people queue up in the street for free handouts.

“When I started in this position, there were about 300 people daily in the line waiting for food aid, today the number is something 3000″ Hursti told News Now Finland recently.

Charities give thousands of gift cards

Finnish charities are also heavily involved in easing the financial burden of low-income families during the festive season.

This year, the Finnish Red Cross Punainen Risti and the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare gave out 28,000 gift cards to families with children.

Their charity drive was boosted this year by businesses who wanted to get involved in donating money or fundraising for the appeal.

“We are grateful for all the donations, both small and big. With them, we have been able to help” says the Red Cross’s Anna Laurinsilta.

The gift cards were distributed across the country, with the aim of making a difference at Christmas.

“I don’t think you understand the feeling when I opened the letter and there was a €70 gift card for the grocery store” one mother of three children told the Red Cross.

The Salvation Army too has been sending gift cards to low-income families, and hosting guests for Christmas dinner, as part of their annual fundraising efforts.

“The money is used to help poor people, mainly families, but also some other people who somehow their lives have got to that point that they can’t afford to buy things for Christmas” Anne Fredriksson of the Salvation Army told News Now Finland earlier in December.

Growing child poverty in Finland

Child poverty is still a growing problem in Finland, despite warnings from aid agencies and officials.

“The percentage of poor children has surpassed the poverty rate of the whole population, which is growing” says Children’s Ombudsman Tuomas Kurttila, as official figures showed the number of low-income families is on the rise.

According to Statistics Finland, in 2017 there were 654,000 people with low incomes in Finland, or 12.1% of the population, which is up slightly from the previous year.

“Many families live on basic social security benefits, and their level in Finland is currently insufficient” says Maaret Alaranta, a Social Welfare Coordinator at the Red Cross.

“Increasing basic social security would provide families with a better livelihood and more equal opportunities for children to grow and develop” she says.