A Red Cross leader has lashed out at the Auckland Secondary Schools Polyfest as "cold and mean-spirited" after it refused to let the charity collect at the event for Pacific victims of Cyclone Pam until the Herald asked questions about it yesterday.
Lynfield College principal Steve Bovaird, who chairs the festival's trust board, wrote to the Red Cross on Wednesday night saying the trust had never let anyone seek donations at the event for a specific cause and would not change its policy without a full board meeting, which would not happen before the festival ends tomorrow.
"Inside the event people should not feel compelled or feel uncomfortable about handing over money," he wrote.
But after Herald inquiries he backed down last night and said the trust had agreed to give the charity a free stall for the remaining two days of the four-day festival.
"That would normally have cost quite a bit but we will give it to them free," he said.
"They can distribute whatever information they wish to the public telling the public how they can donate. We'll let them have a bucket at the stall, so that if people want to donate they can do that without being clobbered as they come in.
"We are holding fast to the principle of not being able to come into the festival without having all sorts of different groups approaching them for funds, because the moment you open it up for one group there is the potential for all sorts of people to want to do the same."
Red Cross Pacific advisory group chairman Melino Maka said he was "dumbfounded" at the initial refusal.
"I'm really quite upset that they don't seem to have any humanity. They are so cold and mean-spirited," he said.
But last night he accepted the compromise and said the charity had never wanted to confront people.
"We wanted people to just stand in one corner," he said. "But if they want a stand, that's fine."
The festival has been one of New Zealand's iconic Pacific events for 40 years, with a record 220 groups from 64 high schools performing this year at the Manukau Sports Bowl.
New Zealanders have given generously to repair cyclone damage in Vanuatu, where 11 people died, and in Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands. The Government has given $2.5 million and a Red Cross national appeal has raised more than $160,000.
Other major events including Pasifika and the Cricket World Cup have allowed collections for the cyclone victims, and the Warriors rugby league team said last night that they would give $1000 to a World Vision appeal for the islands for every goal scored against the Parramatta Eels at Mt Smart Stadium tomorrow.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown has reactivated a Mayoral Fund for the Pacific that was set up after a 2012 cyclone in Samoa, and Vanuatu Association chairman Charlton Leo said Auckland Council had given permission for a street collection on Saturday outside the gates of the Sports Bowl. Mr Maka said that would no longer be necessary after last night's Polyfest backdown.
Mr Leo said the idea to collect at Polyfest came up at a community meeting on Tuesday night, the first time the local Ni-Vanuatu community had come together since the cyclone hit their homeland at the weekend.
But when Mr Maka rang Polyfest director Theresa Howard on Wednesday, she first asked him to submit a formal request in writing, and then emailed a refusal signed by Mr Bovaird on Wednesday night.
The festival's main sponsor ASB Bank said it had no input into the decision, which was "for the event organisers to make".
"ASB is helping to collect donations to support the Vanuatu clean-up after Cyclone Pam. These can be made at any ASB branch, through the ASB contact centre or via FastNet Classic," the bank said.
Vanuatu's Consul-General in Auckland McKenzie Kalotiti said the Polyfest's stance was offset by the Warriors' generosity.
"We are overwhelmed with New Zealand generosity," he said. "The Warriors came up with this idea in response to our request, so as one avenue closes, another one opens."
Meanwhile New Zealand's Tuvaluan community met on Wednesday night and will run a street collection in West Auckland tomorrow to help the northern islands in their homeland which were also devastated by the cyclone.
Tuvalu Auckland Community Trust secretary Sagaa Malua said 70 to 80 per cent of New Zealand's 3000 Tuvaluans live in West Auckland.
Red Cross NZ secretary-general Tony Paine said the offer of a stall was a "win-win" for both parties.
"This has been blown of proportion," he said. "The NZ Red Cross does not think that Polyfest is mean-spirited or any of the other adjectives that have been used. That is certainly not an official Red Cross point of view."