St John caring callers

By Hannah Norton

Whangerei's oldest and longest-serving caring callers are urging locals to get behind the St John Appeal this week.

Audrey Millar and Ila Johnson are St John caring callers, who regularly phone those in the community who are lonely or house-bound.

They are both volunteers and say that while volunteers keep St John going, donations are also needed to keep this valuable service in the community.

"It is very important to the community," says Ms Millar, who has been volunteering for St John for 27 years.

The 75-year-old joined the caring caller team in 2006, after moving to Northland from Mangakino, making her Whangarei's longest serving caring caller.

Her favourite thing about being a caring caller is "talking to the people" - something she does twice a week, for a couple of hours.

Whangarei St John's oldest caring caller is 102-year-old Ila Johnson, who says the St John services are vital.

"You press a button and they are there [to help]. They are marvellous people," she said.

Ms Johnson starting volunteering as a caring caller a few years ago because she enjoys talking with people.

The caring caller service is anonymous, which means callers and clients only know each others' first names.

Ms Johnson says of her clients: "We talk about anything. My three favourites are racing, rugby and whisky," Ms Johnson says.

She intends to keep on going "as long as St John's wants me".

Whangarei district caring caller manager Faye Grant said the work volunteers such as Ms Millar and Ms Johnson do is invaluable.

"Caring caller is a huge boost to the community," she said. "St John could not work in New Zealand without its volunteers. There is something like 12,000 nationwide."

But Ms Grant acknowledges that St John cannot survive with volunteers alone.

"We cannot survive without donations. Everywhere, funding's being cut from every organisation. The [television] ads are only asking for $3. Imagine if all New Zealanders got on board."

Whangarei people can donate online at or by calling 0800 ST JOHN (0800 785 646), donating to staff or volunteers out collecting or by making a donation at any ASB branch.

To learn more about St John's caring caller programme, phone Faye Grant on 4339889.


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