How a city’s ‘community gem’ turned his life around - by helping others.

Jase Lunn turns to his partner and says: "Did you see that guy's smile? That's why I do it, it's for those smiles."

The Tauranga wharfie is describing the kick he gets from helping those less fortunate, help for which he is affectionately known around town as a 'community gem'. His is a remarkable story.

Once battling a serious drug addiction, today Lunn is a friend to many in the city. Every Christmas, for example, he organises toys for children in need while throughout the year he collects essential household items no longer wanted by owners - like beds and fridges - and delivers them to struggling families.

He does it all in his spare time. Not that he has much of that. He works long, unsocial hours in his job on the Tauranga wharves (starting at 3pm he only knocks off 12 hours later in the early hours of the next morning) often putting in a six-day week.

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Although he expects nothing in return, he was acknowledged this week with an ASB Good as Gold award, the bank giving him $10,000 to spend on a holiday.

"Jason's story is truly one of facing tough times and being able to turn things around," says ASB Bays/lower North Island regional manager Barry Coffey.

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"The number of people in Tauranga he has given a helping hand to when they needed it is testament to this and to the huge part of the community he is, particularly around Christmas," he says. "His dedication to making Christmas a bit more magical for families who don't have much epitomises his caring nature and his heart of gold."

Yet his story could have been so different. Before beginning his community project three years ago Lunn was at a low point and in no state to help anyone.

"I was addicted to synthetic cannabis," he says. "I was not in a good place. I was living in my van, drinking coffee and not eating. I had lost 40kg and many of my friends."

Then two events changed his life. First his stepfather suggested he get help, advice he followed and which began his journey to recovery. And then he watched as a close friend organised a container of relief clothing to be sent to Vanuatu.

"I thought that was cool and I decided I wanted to do something like that too," he says. "I needed to find something to keep me busy otherwise I was worried funny thoughts would come back in my head. I'd also been told by someone (during his recovery) that when I found myself not helping others is when I would get sick again."

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Lunn first hit upon the idea of collecting used toys, bikes and other items to distribute to kids at Christmas. Soon this expanded to handing out food, furniture and whiteware appliances such as fridges, freezers and washing machines to families struggling to make ends meet.

"I don't take rubbish but I thought if people had surplus stuff they were tripping over at home then I could hold it and find needy families to give it to," he says. "It really works.

There are some wonderful people out there who would rather see others benefit from this stuff than have it sold or taken to the dump."

Lunn spread the word through social media and his work has become so well known in Tauranga that he is never short of items to give out. Such is the volume, he has been donated a coolstore to hold the goods until he can distribute them, and as his third Christmas toy drive approaches, Lunn says he has lost count of the number of children he has delivered to.

He also uses social media to find the families to give to. "I'm always searching, but I tell them the items are for the needy and I insist on one item per family, so please be genuine.

I've been doing this long enough now that I can suss out the silly ones; when you don't get a 'please' or a 'thank you' I can tell, I can feel it."

Lunn was nominated for the ASB award by Tauranga woman Kellie Smith. The pair only met for the first time when the award was presented this week.

"I didn't know him personally but I'd seen how well the community responded to him," Smith says. "He just seemed such a selfless person and I thought if anyone deserves recognition, he does. He's amazing and has a heart of gold.

"When I did finally meet him it was great to put a face to the name. He was so lovely, just like a cuddly bear."

Lunn says he was blown away by the award but is looking forward to planning a holiday with his partner Kathy Hughes. "I can't remember the last holiday I had, I'm stoked."

He says he is thinking of a "tiki tour" to the South Island where he has never been. "I was brought up in Canada (although born in Waihi, he lived in Canada for 10 years from the age of eight) and I hear the South Island is similar.

"But I'm also fascinated by Scandanavia, so we might go to Denmark instead."