Couple going to great lengths to help supply elderly in one of NZ's worst Covid-19 clusters.

Matamata is the centre of one of New Zealand's biggest coronavirus clusters with over 60 affected people – but those with elderly relatives living in the Waikato town can be sure their family is being looked after, thanks to a local couple's award-winning community initiative.

Since the lockdown, Gayle and Gary Dickson have been shopping for groceries for the elderly, housebound and those in need.

Gayle makes up to 15 trips a day to and from the town's New World Supermarket, delivering to homes around the rural district, better known as the home of Hobbiton and horseracing studs, usually with Gary at the wheel.

The couple won't take payment for their time or petrol but the ASB Good As Gold campaign has recognised their community spirit with a $5000 award.

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Their good works gained momentum with a call from Matthew Hart (former Black Caps cricketer) and his wife Sheree (Commonwealth Games badminton player) – who have owned Matamata New World since 2013.

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Gayle says: "Matt called me up and said, 'Look, we've been inundated with phone calls from people who are over 70, can't come in, can't use the Click & Collect because the system's overloaded and there's a two-week waiting period. Can you help out if we forward your number?'

"I said, 'Yep, sure, why not?' I thought, 'How many could there be?' The next thing I knew I had the Citizens Advice Bureau ringing, I had the Matamata-Piako District Council calling because they were running a Civil Defence hotline.

"Then the Salvation Army rang and said, 'Look, we've set up an account that you're welcome to use. We'll bill them after the event if people don't have cash or they're stuck financially'.

"It's turned into an absolute monster. I don't know how many people we're helping out in total but I can do 10 shops a day – and each trip can involve several households' orders. Today I think I've done 11 and there are more to come."

Gayle says one of her motivations has been worried messages from family members who've moved away from the town.

"I'm getting phone calls from daughters in Auckland and sons in Tauranga panicking that Mum or Dad haven't got groceries and they're threatening to walk down to the shops. They don't want their parents going out of the house, so I've stepped in."

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"New Zealanders are known worldwide for their friendly and generous nature but it's times like this when we really see how important that generosity and caring can be," says ASB Counties and Waikato regional manager Mark Hayward. "While it may be hard for a lot of people who can't see their friends or extended family, it must be even harder for those whose loved ones need additional help during this time.

"Gayle and Gary's work means those people, who may also be more at risk from this virus, can stay at home, something we think is worth rewarding," says Hayward.

Long-time Aucklanders, the Dicksons moved to Matamata two and a half years ago. The first local they met was Peter Doughty, a former workmate of Gary's father Bill, at the town's RSA.

Peter, who put them forward for the award, says their keenness to become part of the community was obvious from Day One: "When any jobs came up or you could see something needed doing, Gayle and Gary put their hands up.

"Gayle has been up at the RSA with me with a hammer and a cold chisel smashing away at brickwork. She sees a job that needs doing and she'll get into it. She is just that sort of person, she wants to help everybody."

Recently, she's stepped into the breach as the club's secretary/manager and is also a leading light in the town's community patrol – trained and vetted volunteers who work alongside local police.

For Gayle, looking after the townspeople's groceries was a natural extension of her RSA role: "We've got a lot of 70-plus members and a lot of guys whose welfare we look after, so I thought I should do the shopping for them," she says.

Peter and his wife were in the South Island when the coronavirus situation began: "We rushed home and didn't have any hand sanitiser. So Gayle jacked up some for us and she said, 'If you need any shopping done, give me a yell and I'll do it', [she said that] because I'm in the age group where I can't go out."

Word got around town. Gayle started a Facebook community – "people would email her with their shopping list, she would find out what it was going to cost, email the people back, they would put the money in the bank and she would go and do their shopping."
Peter says Gayle has even created a safe, social distancing protocol for delivering groceries to people inside the town's coronavirus cluster.

"If I can't do my patrol one night, I ring Gayle and she'll jump at the chance. She is so community-minded. She puts other people's welfare ahead of her own. While everybody is locked inside their bubbles, she's making sure they are safe and OK."

What will she do with the award?

"My first instinct was to donate the $5000 to the RSA and people bollocked me when I said that. I will give some to them but I've really no idea."

Like many Kiwis, Gayle made a to-do list of jobs around the house for the lockdown. She admits that Gary has taken that over.

"He's done shedloads, I've done shopping. If ever I was a shopaholic, this has cured it."