A Gift From Stranger Can Help With Starting Anew


Terhi Saarinen (left) and Tiina Heiskanen from Riihimäki’s Support Network marched to Prisma to collect donations for the Christmas campaign last week. People got to fulfill help seekers’ anonymous wishes that were hanging as notes in a Christmas tree. In two days’ time, they filled two shopping carts with gifts.

People from Riihimäki can give and receive help anonymously on Facebook.
The support page provides help especially to impecunious families. The amount of people who get help is rising constantly.

Leaning on the jamb of the door, there is a pile of carpets under which ice skates’ blades are looming. Boxes of chocolate have been stacked on the corner of the table and a basket that has been lifted on the chair is filled with toys.
Deacon Tiina Heiskanen’s office is full of things that are on their way to help people in need. There are so many donations that some of them have been stacked in the hallway.
Heiskanen founded Riihimäen Tukiverkosto (Riihimäki’s Support Network) with Terhi Saarinen on Facebook in autumn 2015. Its purpose is to unite local help seekers and help givers.

The administrators are middlemen via whom the donations emanate to the help seekers anonymously. The seekers are documented by numbers.
The donator and seeker don’t necessarily ever meet each other. In the women’s opinion, anonymity is particularly important because Riihimäki is such a small town. The support network wants to take strict care of the privacy of all parties.
– The donator and recipient might easily run into each other in a store, for example. It’s important that nobody feels awkward and there is a low threshold to helping, says Saarinen.
Heiskanen runs the support network as a part of her job as a deacon and Saarinen does it on her free time. Sometimes the women have to remind that they have their own families as well and life in addition to the support network.
Neither of the women has a driver’s licence but they sometimes get transportation help from their acquaintances. However, Saarinen and Heiskanen want to do most of the delivery work by themselves so that the seekers’ anonymity would remain. It’s a question of trust.

Help is often needed due to surprising situations in life. The most common reasons are illness, unemployment and accidents.
Impecunious families in particular are applying for help and especially during Christmas season, the amount of single parents and large families is emphasized. A donation can even help people to start anew.
In her job as a deacon, Heiskanen meets a lot of vulnerable people and often faces the fact that the society’s resources aren’t sufficient to help.
– There are major cuts being made in many places and the meaning of the third sector is being emphasized all the time. Voluntary work is more important than ever before.
Information about the network has spread via grapevine and posters, and the amount of help seekers is rising all the time. Normally the support network has 20-30 numbered help seekers.
Now, in December, they reach the number 59.

The support network accepts donations allocatedly according to the requests of help. Saarinen and Heiskanen get to the bottom of the background stories of the families but bank statements, for example, are not required.
They publish the applicants’ stories that have been edited unrecognisable and a list of things they need on the Facebook page.
The support network has provided all kinds of necessities from food to furniture and clothes. The wishes vary according to seasons. Now many are longing for winter clothes and in autumn people are lacking school supplies.
In the summer, people donated amusement park access wristbands to Puuhamaa and Linnanmäki via the network. Twenty families got to have fun there, to most of them it was the first time.
The women who run the support group are already known in Riihimäki and people trust in the fact that help will get where it needs to be. Many people donate again.

The help seeker has to be a citizen of Riihimäki, so the support network has had to turn down some of the requests that have come from outside of Riihimäki. Another limitation is that one person in need of help gets to use their number only for three months. After that the number moves to someone else in need.
The help of the support network isn’t sufficient if a person has lost their home, for example, or if they are in big debt.
Many people try to donate money but the network doesn’t have the licence to collect money. However, gift cards can be provided because according to the police, they can be compared to items.
– We did a long background job before founding the network. Everything is based on trust and it can be lost only once, tells Heiskanen.

The support network has been thanked for the fact that the help goes straight to the people in need and nobody steals their share. Also the fact that the recipients are local people has been praised.
In Heiskanen’s opinion, the support network can also raise awareness and change attitudes. It has come as a surprise to many donators that there truly are so many impecunious families in Riihimäki.
Saarinen tells about a donator who was sorry about the small amount of money his gift card worth of 20 euros contained. The gift card went to a family who hadn’t had any money to use for 4 days.
– What is a little donation to you can be a big deal to the person in need.
The network is functioning entirely based on private people’s donations. People’s willingness to help surprises Saarinen and Heiskanen every day.
– The amount of donations reminds us that there are still good people left. We need to have tissues with us in this job, Saarinen says.

Facebook Page

On Riihimäki’s Support Network, local help seekers and help givers meet
The charity page is run and the things are delivered by Tiina Heiskanen and Terhi Saarinen.
The support network is not an organisation or another official party, but deacon Heiskanen’s background community is Riihimäki’s parish.
The network doesn’t have a licence to collect money. So, they don’t accept money, but gift cards can be donated.
If somebody can donate items or things, they can inform the administrators of the page. They send the donations forward anonymously.
The network has no storage where they could store the donations. Only donations that have been agreed on will be accepted.
Now the support network has a Christmas campaign going on. Donations that align with the help seekers’ wishes will be received until 20th of December.




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