Two Dannevirke people were among a small group of unsung heroes recognised for their outstanding commitment to their community last week.
Jake Todd and Awhina Nikora were two of 13 presented with medals as part of the Kiwibank Local Hero awards, recognising the contribution everyday people make.
Awhina is behind Monday Kai for our Tamariki – a programme making lunches for school children whose parents may not be able to provide for them.
Awhina and her family prepare lunches using their own food, money and resources in an effort to ensure local school children have lunches at the start of each week. The initiative now accepts donated baked goods and other food items, helping Awhina feed as many children as she can.
And six days a week, for six hours a day, Jake Todd is busy working in the 2.4ha reserve alongside State Highway 2. His wife Pat reckons she should have meals on wheels delivered to him there as he's hardly ever home.
Jake said he'd be happy to have a tree house in the reserve.
"It would be No 2 Fern Grove," he said.
Jake originally joined the two Daves - Pawson and Mulinder - who were working on the Adopt-a-Highway project north of Dannevirke.
"I decided to take on some of the work on the project after I had a new motor installed (heart surgery) and I needed to run it in," he said. "The three of us were called the last of the summer wine and worked well together."
Then Jake saw the need to do something about the reserve, which runs down to the Mangatera Stream, which was more blackberry than beauty.
"I could see the reserve going back and getting overgrown with blackberry and Old Man's Beard, it was a disgrace. I'd go walking every night with my dog with my secateurs in my hand, cutting back the blackberry."
And although Dave Pawson isn't able to dedicate the time he previously gave to the Adopt-a-Highway project, Dave Mulinder helps Jake out three hours a week.
"I worked on that reserve for a couple of years before I told the council," Jake said. "But now I get help from the council and staff member Colin Veale."
The job has become bigger than he ever thought and Jake has now cleared and made 14 tracks through the stunning landscape where fantails, moreporks and kererū have returned. There are fern tracks and biking and walking tracks.
"I'm now putting up handrails along with tracks and redoing the surface of some of the bike tracks to make them suitable for walkers," Jake said.
"I have a plan to get rid of the blackberry and the ferns are regenerating. We've shifted 200 ferns on to the walkway edges."
But although he's devoted all of his time to the project, Jake admits he couldn't have achieved anything without help.
"At the end of the day, it's the people who have come on board with money and materials," he said.
"Garden clubs have given me money and I've had the privilege of donations of plants from Roger Erskine at Kildrummie Nurseries. He opens his heart and always keeps a truck load of plants for me.
"My son Phillip has helped too and Trevor Beale chainsaws any fallen trees, never expecting anything in return. Liz Gunson is one of my biggest assets, she's just the best.
"She delivers bark which she receives from TreeSmart."
Hamish Illsley has also been a big contributor.
"I asked him if he knew where I could get some seats to put on the track and by the river and a month later he rang me. He'd made five seats. One is in the hub of the reserves, others alongside the river. They went in quickly. Three or four of us dug the holes on a Saturday morning and they were all in that day. I can't do this without the community behind me."
If you want to see great redwood trees, take a walk around the reserve.
"They are so big you've got to see them. We've been told they're equal to the redwoods at Rotorua and are between 80 and 100 years old," Pat said.
"It's a good place to sit, rest and enjoy the area."
Pat has also put plenty of muscle into the reserve, especially when snow knocked over 21 trees.
"Jake said 'help me' and three months later I was still hauling branches away," she said.
Despite having battled cancer twice, undergone heart surgery and suffered from diabetes, Jake said the work has been good for him.
"My diabetes isn't a problem now, because I'm doing all this exercise and I think I know what I'm doing, after all, I've had 65 years of gardening experience," he said.
Along with the reserve Jake and Pat have an immaculate 0.8ha home garden.
"I like to keep active and it wouldn't be easy for me to stand back and do nothing," Jake said. "But, I worry when the time comes and I can't do anything, the work might not carry on."
This is the 10th year of the Local Hero Awards. The 13 from Manawatū are some of the 322 winners from around the country.
From those nominated, one will become Local Hero of the Year at a ceremony in February.