The gap between the haves and have nots is wide in the Far North. Entrenched poverty, poor housing, overcrowding and access to health services take their toll on a significant part of the district's population. But the Bald Angels are working hard to change that, and as reporter Jenny Ling finds out, they're making a heck of a difference.
They say it takes a village to raise a child.
For Therese Wickbom, founder of the Bald Angels Charitable Trust, that village is the Far North community, and the child is not one but many who live in some of the most deprived pockets of the region.
Like the 6-year-old boy who had never had a new pair of undies, and the 13-year-old girl who had just become a mother and who desperately wanted a cuddly toy to comfort herself.
Wickbom and her band of volunteers, along with the organisations and charities they deal with, see it all while handing out clothing, food and essentials mostly in Kaikohe, but also the Hokianga, Kawakawa, Kaeo, Whangaroa and Kaitaia.
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Their projects include Angel Bears, little branded bears supplied to first response units to support children in trauma.
After giving a bag of the cuddly toys to one social services group, Wickbom was informed of a young mum who absolutely loved them.
"My first reaction was they're not for adults they're for children," she said.
"When she told me this young mum was 13 and this bear had become a real comfort and she took it everywhere she went... that still gets me and makes me want to cry. The challenges these young people have are so far out of our understanding sometimes."
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Wickbom established Bald Angels in 2012 after several years battling illness.
Wanting to make a difference to the community she lives and works in, she reached out to a fellow Kerikeri resident to help run a campaign to raise money for those in need.
The Kerikeri based charity's first head shave event saw 10 hairdressers shave 62 people completely bald on stage, raising $43,000 which was donated to Hospice for the Memory Making Moments project, supporting families facing traumatic times.
This was blitzed by the group's Guinness World Record breaking event of 2015 where 462 people had their locks shaved off in an hour, raising $60,000.
By partnering with Hospice Mid-Northland, St John, Corrections, police, local hospitals and iwi organisations and social services, the Bald Angels' reach is wide.
The trust co-ordinates a range of fundraising activities throughout the year and donates the proceeds to these coalface agencies best placed to identify and connect with families needing help.
With help from a core group of 12 volunteers, the Bald Angels has supported a hefty number of initiatives including Christmas food parcels and toy drives, and the Keep Our Kids Warm Campaign, which sees the collection and distribution of warm clothing, blankets, socks, beanies and shoes from the wider community to families in need.
The KiwiMana programme gives youth valuable life experience, practical skills and job opportunities, and new mums in maternity wards are gifted knitted baby sleeping bags for their newborns. Community groups like the Kerikeri Quilters create beautiful quilts which are gifted to Foster Hope for the Far North's foster children.
Wickbom also takes donations at her cafe, Cafe Cinema, which won the NZ Restaurant Association Good Neighbour Award for outstanding community involvement in 2017.
"We're the glue between various organisations and groups," she said.
"Young people deserve to thrive... and we have met so many people in our partnerships, who are doing a great job, but people are still suffering, children are still suffering. Once you have witnessed the level of poverty and the challenges of their lives, I simply can't turn my back. We have to do, as a community, what we can do to help each other."
There are "pockets of poverty everywhere", Wickbom said, with the Far North and East Cape having the highest levels in the country, along with high rates of suicide, truancy and rheumatic fever.
A Northland DHB audit found that despite public health initiatives, rates of rheumatic fever in Northland Māori remained high - with rates for Northland Māori aged 5 to 14 one of the highest in the world.
This is due to ongoing issues of poor housing, overcrowding and access to health services.
More than half of the cases in the audit lived in areas ranked as the most deprived on the New Zealand Deprivation Index, while 90 per cent lived in areas with high deprivation.
Wickbom believes the problems are in part because the region is vast and transport infrastructure limited which can make getting to a doctor or other vital support services an issue.
And it's a problem that isn't going away, she said.
"Is it getting worse or are we just getting more connections? I don't know.
"But we have a generational cycle of poverty and illness and despair and until we've walked in their shoes we're in no position to judge.
"I can't even begin to explain how deep and broad the need is. I've met families living in a garage on a dirt floor with no running water or electricity, with severe illness and disabilities.
''That to me, as a fourth generation New Zealander, is incomprehensible. If I didn't see that with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it."
Despite this, Wickbom firmly believes the Far North is the best community in the world.
And the community is glad to have her too; in 2017 the Bald Angels won the Trustpower Far North Community Award which recognised the district's "good sorts."
At the time, Trustpower spokesperson Abbie Siely said the awards reaffirmed the district's reputation for producing innovative and effective community groups; the Bald Angels standing out with its multi-faceted approach to community care.
"Bald Angels contributes to the wellbeing of more than 200 families and 1000 Mid-North children every year through fundraising events that bring the community together in the spirit of generosity and goodwill," Siely said.
Fundraising efforts by the Bald Angels have raised over $121,000 to date, 100 per cent of which is tagged to stay in Northland to help tamariki thrive.
Already this year, around 5000 children have been impacted by projects.
Since 2013, more than 3000 items of warm clothing have been distributed, along with 1200 angel bears, and more than 4000 Christmas gifts.
This year, the Bald Angels teamed up with Kai Konnect, a community initiative based in Kaikohe, which gives out free hot chocolate and oranges to hungry tamariki.
Kai Konnect, a collaboration of individuals, businesses and leaders, stood out in the rain, hail and shine every Wednesday this winter, warming up local school children walking to school along Mangakahia Rd.
Volunteers dished out 700 cups of hot chocolate, 140 litres of milk and 30kg of oranges and apples.
Kai Konnect co-ordinator Lee Mason said the collaboration was a positive move for the Far North.
"We have high quality hot chocolate funded by sponsors and sourced through Cafe Cinema Kerikeri and our volunteers are from the Kaikohe Seventh Day Adventist Church, Bald Angels and local whānau making up over 70 hours of service and planning together. I'm blown away by the amount of support from the community."
Mason said the smiles on kids' faces made the cold winter mornings worth it.
"Nothing beats seeing a child walk to school with a big smile on their face and a warm tummy ready to start the day. It brings warmth to our hearts as we serve them."
It's the small gestures which make huge differences to others' lives that keeps Wickbom going.
Like the Hospice Memory Making Moments project - similar to the I Have a Dream programme which provides special moments for children and their families going through tough times.
The children of one family who had never slept in a bed on their own before, were provided with a motel for the night - and were thrilled to have a bed to themselves.
"Those are really special moments and the community is responsible for that, they have made that happen," Wickbom said.
"If I had a magic wand I would like to see values-led education, and a real focus on valuing children, and valuing each other. I met a 21-year-old man in prison who said the best thing he learned was that he was worth something. How do you get to 21 and find out that you're valuable and worth something in prison, and what does that say about our society?"
Wickbom wants to relay "unlimited thank yous" to the community for everything they've done to date.
"The community has been very invested in the Bald Angels from the beginning.
"The donated coats, underwear, sanitary items, blankets - all these things matter so much. We have positive outcomes because the community has been so generous and supportive. There's an amazing opportunity to do so much more. Together we can do so much more."
The Pātaka Kai movement
Pātaka Kai open street pantries have taken off around the country as a way of helping feed and strengthen communities.
Pātaka Kai, which means food storehouse in te reo Māori, is a resident-led movement which encourages sharing between neighbours.
People can donate excess food like fresh fruit and vegetables and non-perishable items that might benefit someone in need.
The pantries are open 24/7 and residents are encouraged to "take what you need and leave what you can".
Kai Konnect also helps run the food pantry at Kaikohe library and there are several others in Northland, including in Kawakawa, Kaitaia, Rawene and Whangārei.
Whangārei woman Lexia Popata opened the city's first Pātaka Kai - Pātaka Raurimu - last year and it's been a huge success.