He almost didn’t take the call. Being in a rural area with destruction all around him and out of cell phone range, Winton Dalley, the Mayor of quake-hit Hurunui in South Island cannot thank his stars enough for taking the call.
“Is this for real? Are they from Mars?” was the first thought that crossed his mind as Craig Glover, head of Strategy at Auckland Civil Defence, was trying to explain to him that the Tzu Chi Foundation in East Tamaki wanted to donate around $125,000 in prepaid cash cards.
Visiting the Tzu Chi Buddhist Compassion Relief Foundation on Tuesday, Mayor Winton and his wife Jean are grateful to the foundation for their compassion, love and trust invested in them during one of the worst disasters when people lost their homes and everything they worked for all their lives.
At a small gathering organised by Councillor Sharon Stewart, who chairs the Auckland Council’s Civil Defence and Emergency Management Committee, and attended by volunteers of the foundation as well as members of the Resilience and Welfare Auckland Civil Defence Emergency Management, Mr Winton admits that after spending 20 hours in remote, worst-hit areas he was really glad he took the phone call.
The local government event was held for the Mayors of the regions affected by recent emergencies in New Zealand.
The foundation has provided close to $500,000 of assistance to communities of Kaikoura, Hurunui and Edgecumbe in the past year as well as to those affected by floods in Auckland in March.
“I did wonder why Auckland Council was interested in helping a small place like Hurunui.
“It took me almost a week to realise it was a serious offer,” says Mr Winton.
“Though your gift was turned down by the bureaucracy and we were told we couldn’t accept it by the authorities, I am so thankful that this is the beginning of a long-lasting relationship.”
Following the recent earthquakes in Kaikoura and Hurunui and flooding in Edgecumbe, the Auckland Civil Defence department at Auckland Council stepped up and played an important role in linking the foundation with the mayors of the region to facilitate donations.
Mrs Stewart, who was first approached by the Tzu Chi Foundation (which has branches in 60 countries and has assisted more than 90 nations struck by natural disasters) says that when the volunteers of the non-profit charitable organisation approached her saying they wanted to help, she didn’t realise it was going to be such a generous gift.
“I thought they wanted to give $500 or a $1000 or maybe $10,000. I was blown away when they said they would like to give Prezzy cards worth $125,000.
“We were told by the government and Inland Revenue that it is not possible to accept the gift so we decided to approach the mayors of the districts affected by the earthquake and worked through the bureaucracy,” she says.
“This collaboration highlights the value in working together to support affected communities across New Zealand,” says Mrs Stewart.
Volunteers of the foundation share heart-warming stories of people benefitting from distributing 250 cash relief cards of $500 each.
People who were badly hit by the earthquake were moved to tears by the generosity of spirit.
“A lot of people had to leave without their belongings, vehicles, and though they were put up in emergency accommodation, your generous gift meant everything to them,” says Mr Winton.
“The gift was God-sent in the lead up to Christmas. People couldn’t believe they were getting cash to help them out during some of the toughest times of their life.
“There was no judgment, no questions and no long tedious forms to fill up,” he says.
“No other offers came close to the understanding you showed.
“So much happens in an emergency. Though a lot of it is out of our control, sometimes the worst disasters provide us with so many opportunities.
“We need to appreciate the good things as something amazing and unexpected comes out of it.”