Donations to Fill the Bus 2023 poured in by the boxful, by Christmas-tree-shaped stacks, by the bundle and by the handful. Every can proved the generosity of the Rotorua community.
Yesterday a CityRide bus drove across Rotorua calling on businesses, schools and the public to donate food items to the Salvation Army Rotorua’s 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 foodbank’s shelves through the holidays and into 2024.
The Hits Rotorua presenter Paul Hickey was on the bus all day from 7am until 6pm on Wednesday and presenting his radio show live from 9am to 3pm, chatting to the locals who make donations at the designated public stop-offs.
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.
With the help of generous hearts like Mokoia Intermediate student Xavier Reuben, it looks as though the appeal may achieve that goal.
Xavier, 12, donated about 120 cans to his school’s collection all by himself.
He said it was for the “Christmas spirit”.
Xavier was one of many individuals who helped Fill the Bus, even when it wasn’t convenient for them.
Nurse Hine Isaac saw the bus parked at New World as she was getting groceries after a night shift. She decided to stop and donate a few cans of spaghetti.
”I like to help out where I can.”
Bryn Parry, who brought the day’s first donation, said he was on his way out the door on his way to the gym when his wife Julz stopped him.
”She gave me a bag of cans and told me to give it to the bus at the shopping centre. I’m glad she did.”
CityRide employee and today’s Fill the Bus driver Anita Williams said Fill the Bus was about the same things as Christmas: “Giving and family”.
Williams said she was happy to see people give from the heart.
Fill the Bus drove to the doors of 14 schools for this year’s appeal
As the team approached each gate kids ran out with cans in each hand. Some chanted “It’s the Grinch”, over and over again. Others hopped up and down around their collected donations while teachers tried to hold them back from running up to the bus. One school even started singing Christmas carols.
“We all need food and food is happiness,” Otonga Road Primary School student Kiriana Le Comte Hepburn said.
The 10-year-old was “very excited”.
“Because there is the Grinch here and he looks like Pete Davidson.”
Principal Gareth Cunliffe said the day was an “opportunity to give to people who don’t have as much on Christmas”.
“Our children have come to the party. There’s a stack of stuff.”
Lynmore School principal Hinei Taute said support for their collection has “been absolutely amazing”.
“We put it out to our whānau on all our communication channels and daily there has been food brought in,” Taute said.
”Some of the kids had to lug the donations in themselves and put in a bit of muscle power but the looks in their faces - they are so pleased.”
Taute said the school’s student council had been hard at work promoting the appeal.
”They made posters they visited all the classes it’s fantastic. We are so happy that our community backs us up 100 per cent.”
Rotorua Primary School teacher Briar Grace said the school community was always excited to support the appeal’s “beautiful kaupapa”.
”They know the drill. They know they’re contributing to whānau, some we know and some we don’t.”
Rotorua Home Based Childcare service owner Zandra Harding was one of the first to email her organisation’s support for Fill The Bus 2023.
“It’s been around town for ages we just thought we’re part of the community, we utilise the community so why not give back,” Harding said.
“Whanaungatanga is big for us and helping the children be aware of the community they’re in is part of that.”
Ngongotahā School principal Craig McFadyen said the school was “absolutely” happy with their donation.
”It’s a wonderful time of the year to celebrate and support others.
“The school community has been amazingly supportive and given a good-sized haul and the kids have a great time supporting the appeal.”
Kawaha Point School student Theresa Mary Uluave-Bell, 9, said she brought a tin of tuna. ”Because I can give food to the people who need it.”
Malfroy year one and two teacher Delyse Bell said the day was important to “give back to the community”. She said the school had held discos to raise food donations.
Westbrook student Sophia Chapman, 11, said she was “excited” because donations meant other kids could have food over Christmas too.