Coast community pulls all the stops for helicopter fundraiser

Regular – and grateful – users of the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter service, an East Coast community pulled off their own spectacular fundraiser.

“If we were a bigger region it would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars so we are amazed with what people gave,” says the organiser of a fundraiser for the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust. The Ruatoria event organised by Katherine Callaghan and supporters raised $25,000 for the Trust, an amount chairman Patrick Willock describes as “incredible”.

“We have to admit we were pretty pleased,” says Katherine. “This is a region with not many people, and not a lot of money, but we all know that if it is not us that is needing the helicopter, it will be one of our whanau.”

The push behind the fundraiser dates back to 2015 when Katherine’s former employer, Westpac Bank, closed its Ruatoria branch.

“Before the branch closed May was always ‘choppa month’; and the bank would do fundraising for the helicopter rescue service,” Katherine says.

“Then a couple of years passed and myself and another bank staff member, Pia Sanson, thought, ‘heck, no one has done any fundraising’ so we felt it was time to do something.”

That decision made, the pair booked the Te Puia Hot Springs Golf clubhouse for a dinner and auction “and then the world went mad”.

“Between the Covid-19 pandemic and various weather events it got delayed and delayed, but we finally locked it in for November last year,” Katherine says.

Then the entire community swung in behind them to get it done.

“Even those who thought they couldn’t make it were buying tickets because they wanted to support the cause.

“They might have been picked up by the helicopter in the past, or it might have been a family member. The service is a critical connection to every person on the East Coast so it really sells itself.”
Adding up the $50 ticket sales ($3000), the auction ($6500), koha from local whanau and organisations ($500) and the sale of 1500 raffle tickets ($15,000), the fundraising goal exceeded

“Radio Ngati Porou let us use one of their spare bank accounts so all the money was accounted for and there was transparency every step of the way,” says Katherine.

“And we were able to donate every penny because of the support from the community. As well as having all food for the dinner donated we had fantastic prizes for the auction, from huge fishing chilli bins and a chainsaw to amazing pieces from local artists. It was incredible.”

Just a few months before the Ruatoria fundraiser Katherine Callaghan’s own whanaunga, daughter-in-law Ario Rewi, was the patient in a Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter flight to Waikato after a life-threatening medical event.

“When she got home she said ‘they saved my life, we should do something for them’,” Katherine says.

“I said ‘don’t worry, we’ve got it in hand’, but it really brought home just how critical the rescue service is.”

So it was an especially great feeling when she transferred the $25,000 to the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust in mid-March, she says.

“We all know how much it costs to have that helicopter come here and while we could never meet that cost, the community pulled out all the stops to make what contribution they could.
“The only problem is, now they want to do it every year!”

Photo Credit: File photo