Students rally for the less fortunate

By Juliet Rowan

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Pupils from St Mary's Catholic School have collected donations of baby clothes, bedding and other items for struggling families at Merivale School. Pictured is Max Forsythe. Photo / John Borren
Pupils from St Mary's Catholic School have collected donations of baby clothes, bedding and other items for struggling families at Merivale School. Pictured is Max Forsythe. Photo / John Borren

Hearing about a Tauranga boy with no bed prompted children at St Mary's Catholic School to begin collecting unwanted furniture, bedding and clothing for homeless families in their community.

Children from St Mary's Year 6 Young Vinnies group have so far delivered two vanloads of bedding to Merivale School, where 10 per cent of pupils are living in temporary accommodation such as cars and garages.

St Mary's families have also donated several items of furniture to Merivale, including a bed for the boy, after the Young Vinnies put out a call to their school.

The group of 60 pupils are now collecting baby clothes for Merivale newborns and plan to use $700 raised at a cupcake drive to provide packages of nappies, wipes, new bedding and baby furniture if needed.

Liz Driver, teacher in charge of the Young Vinnies (a branch of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul charity), says the story of the 10-year-old Tauranga boy and his 8-year-old brother - both of whom they were told had never had beds - shocked her pupils.

"They had this gobsmacked look on their face as if to say, 'They've never slept on a bed?' They were astounded. You could've heard a pin drop."

She says the Young Vinnies had mooted ideas of helping other charities until they heard the story and realised it affected children in their community.

"It's 10 minutes up the road," says Ms Driver. "I drive past there everyday. I always say to the kids, 'You have no idea what some people's struggles are'."

Parents at St Mary's, a Decile 8 school, have also dropped off parcels to Decile 1 Merivale independently of the Young Vinnies and called to say they have spare furniture.

"We've got a wonderful community and it's a wider community that have been absolutely fantastic and supportive," Merivale principal Jan Tinetti says.

She says many Merivale families are finding themselves without homes as a result of their rental properties being sold. They are then unable to secure affordable alternative accommodation in the face of rental shortages and rising rents due to Tauranga's property boom.

Furniture often had to be ditched because they had nowhere to store it while searching for new accommodation, or in some cases, it needed to be sold to pay the bond on a new rental.

Ms Tinetti says the St Mary's initiative began before national media coverage of Tauranga's homeless crisis and while she is glad to see the community rally, she believes the situation is fundamentally wrong.

"As a country, we're going back to Victorian times. We're relying on the goodwill of others and charity to actually help and support the people in need. The long-term strategy needs to be helping get them into social housing. The central government has to be a big part of that."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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