One school principal says its community hopes to give one of the “biggest donations” they ever have.
Each December for the past eight years, a CityRide bus has driven across Rotorua from 7am to 5.30pm, calling on businesses, schools and the public to donate food items to the foodbank ahead of Christmas for The Hits Rotorua 97.5FM’s campaign.
Fill the Bus is part of the six-week Rotorua Daily Post Christmas Appeal to help stock the Salvation Army Rotorua foodbank’s shelves through the holidays and into 2024.
In 2022, the appeal raised $76,500 worth of donations as the soaring cost of living forced some people out of their homes and pushed others to their financial limits.
This year, the appeal hopes to raise even more, lending a hand to those turning to the foodbank for help, including people with jobs and mortgages struggling to feed their families.
The Hits Rotorua presenter Paul Hickey will be on the bus all day from 7am until 6pm on Wednesday, and will be doing his radio show live from 9am to 3pm, chatting to lots of locals who make donations.
“I’m humbled every year with the support we get,” Hickey said.
He said the many schools and businesses who organised collections were a “massive part of making the day a success”.
“But it is also about giving everybody in Rotorua the chance to donate for our community. So we once again will have the bus at public spots in the morning, lunchtime, and after school.”
Hickey said the public donation points were hopefully close enough for everybody to pop along and make a donation.
“No matter how big or small, every can makes a difference to somebody.”
Ngongotahā School principal Craig McFayden said the concept of Fill the Bus connected the school with values such as respect and equality.
“I believe that it is important for children to learn empathy and to be supportive to those in need, especially at this time of year,” McFayden said.
McFayden said teacher aide Vanessa Fisher had taken on organising the school’s donations to Fill the Bus this year.
“Three weeks ago she decorated some boxes for collection and created flyers to post around the school.”
McFayden said already, a huge amount of donations had come in.
“It will be one of the biggest collections we have ever had.”
McFayden said students were most looking forward to the “joy of giving” that came with filling the bus with gifts.
“The children to love play Santa for a few minutes and to help load the cans into the bus. They also love to see The Grinch and have a chat with Paul on the radio.”
Lynmore School staff member Wendy Watson said Fill the Bus has been “important” for the school community “since its inception”.
“We are fortunate to have a community that are able to help with this and have always been very generous with donations.”
Watson said the school began preparing for Fill the Bus “weeks ago” with the student council taking charge.
“[They] love to go around the school to collect the donations and to bring them to the office area, where we store the food until the pick-up day.”
Watson said excitement in the school was growing.
“The kids enjoy packing the boxes and taking them on to the bus. They like to load the bus and see what a bus full of food looks like.”
Why local businesses back Fill the Bus
Ellen Hatcher from Repco Rotorua said the business was “looking forward to the hype” of Fill the Bus.
“With more and more people struggling to pay their expenses and feed their families in this day and age we feel that any contribution we can make will help,” Hatcher said.
Scion general manager people, culture and safety Cameron Lucich said as one of Rotorua’s biggest employers the company believed it was important to help make Christmas special for everyone.
“We all know the cost of living has really had an effect recently,” Lucich said.
“As a major annual fundraiser for Salvation Army, supporting the Christmas appeal through Fill the Bus was a no-brainer for us.”
Scion put the call out for its Rotorua staff to bring donations for Fill the Bus from last week.
“Donations are coming in and we’ll be collecting more right up until the bus rolls down Titokorangi Drive.”
Damar Industries health, safety, quality and environment manager Stacey Rimene said staff started collecting donations in early November.
“The collection is going very well with items being added daily.”
Rimene said staff were proud and keen to contribute.
“[Fill the Bus] gives us the fulfilment of knowing we are helping those that may be struggling this Christmas.”
A message from the Salvation Army
Salvation Army Rotorua corps officer Hana Seddon said she and her team couldn’t wait to head out into the community.
“[We’re excited to be] visiting all of the schools and stopping at each place along the way with our friends Shieldy and the Grinch, the Hits and our Daily Post whānau,” Seddon said.
“We will have our best Christmas outfits on from dawn till dusk, ready to count and sort and pack as our community fills the bus.”
Seddon thanked everyone who had already signed up to be part of the long-standing Fill the Bus tradition of “lighting up someone’s Christmas”.
“Despite it being a tough year for so many, I have witnessed the goodness, the kindness, the aroha of the Rotorua community and it is something to behold.”
Maryana Garcia is a regional reporter writing for the Rotorua Daily Post and the Bay of Plenty Times. She covers local issues, health and crime.