by PETER OWENS
Wanaka volunteers provided some winter cheer on the night in June for migrant workers stuck in New Zealand because of Covid-19. A free “Christmas” dinner attracted 140 people from all corners of the world, and was followed by a karaoke session.
The function at the Wanaka Hub was funded by the Upper Clutha Christmas Trust, which has raised money over the past five years by operating a “Santa’s Grotto” for children. Organiser and chair of the Upper Clutha Community Hub, Yeverley McCarthy, said many of the migrants were in a bad way — “they’re lonely and they’re broke”.
Mrs McCarthy says the hub had been supporting many workers from overseas.
“They don’t have work, it’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just there’s no work. So when they come into the hub to get their [food] vouchers, there’s a lot of tears and our volunteers are even in tears.”
Mrs McCarthy said that tenants at the community hub, including the district health board and Presbyterian Support, were dealing with a lot of mental health issues from people in the town.
“People have just hit the wall a bit. A lot of these kids can’t get home and they’re stuck, and I’m sure it’s the same for families.”
“There’s no work, there’s rent to pay. It’s just not easy. In fact, it wasn’t easy before lockdown. Wānaka is quite affluent, but a lot of people are paying very high rents, there’s not a lot of disposable income. You have a glitch like this and it really does affect them badly.”
Mrs McCarthy said that, on the night of the “Christmas” dinner, she was behind the scenes making the venison hotpots and doing the dishes.
“We didn’t need any money and we didn’t need any food, but we needed quite a lot of volunteers to help us with the setting up and cleaning up. I had all my neighbours coming to help.
“What has happened with Covid is that it’s made everyone take a big deep breath, and we’ve gotten to know our neighbours. We’ve found out that there are quite a lot of lonely people in our communities, and it’s just a lovely thing to be able to do something like this, that makes people feel altogether better about the world.”
Mrs McCarthy has been actively involved in serving the community over many years. She was the foundation chair of Holy Family Catholic School in Wānaka and of its building committee. She chaired the board of trustees until 2011. She organised the first Aspiring Art Award in 2008, and has continued to oversee the event. She has been involved with the Upper Clutha Plunket Society, Hawea Flat Play Group, and was chair of the Hawea Flat School board. Mrs McCarthy opened the Serendipity Charity Shop in 2009 to raise funds for Wanaka community groups. At present, she is chair of the Upper Clutha Christmas Trust, and is delighted to have been appointed as a trustee for the Wanaka Community House Trust.
Born in the Waikato, Mrs McCarthy moved to Wānaka with her husband Bill 41 years ago, and has always had a keen interest in local community initiatives. She has been an active volunteer with Hāwea Flat School, the local playgroup, Plunket, Wānaka Golf Club, Wānaka A&P Society, Lake Hāwea Picnic Racing Club, and was also involved in the establishment of Holy Family School and Church. Mrs McCarthy was the proud recipient of the Queen’s Service Medal for services to this community in 2013.
She says: “Wānaka Community Hub has been in development for over ten years, and everyone who has been involved over the years is thrilled with the rate of progress over the last few months, to enable it to open as planned in November last. As a volunteer, seeing everything come together is so rewarding. It’s been a real journey; I’ve learnt a lot and met some wonderful people along the way.”
“If you are interested in your community, the best way to help is to volunteer in some way. You meet people, you help make life a little easier for others, and get a great deal of satisfaction on the way,” she said.