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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The rise of the cake-stall nation

The rise of the cake-stall nation

Last updated 11:00 20/03/2011
Mark Weldon claims not to be thinking figures.

"It's not about the final number," he says. "I don't have a figure in mind. It's about people feeling they are making a contribution."

For the time being, the boss of the New Zealand Stock Exchange, normally mired in the minutiae of share fluctuations and profit and loss announcements, won't even be drawn on a ballpark figure.

Weldon has just completed the first week of what is supposed to be a six-week leave of absence to spearhead the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. His specific role is to solicit funds overseas but he is also involved in a range of appeal efforts around the country.

One week down and there's about $20 million in the account - a combination of fundraising initiatives that includes events such as the Fill the Basin cricket match in Wellington last weekend.

"Not a bad start," says Weldon.

The Japan earthquake, just two days after his appointment was announced, has inevitably made the job infinitely more difficult and quite probably longer.

Weldon acknowledges that but says: "The realities in Christchurch haven't changed one bit."

Ever since February 22, when Christchurch buckled under the force of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, New Zealanders have taken to fundraising for the city like it's their new national sport.

There are long lunches in Hamilton, concerts in Auckland, cricket games in Wellington, a Zumba- athon in Invercargill and internet auctions for everything from political detritus to a ram that comes with a recipe for meatballs.

Collectively this mass outpouring of Kiwi generosity has so far, very conservatively, raised more than $70m. That's more than three times the amount raised for the Red Cross appeal after the September 4 quake. And between the two Christchurch quakes came the Pike River explosion that killed 29 miners. A subsequent appeal for their families raised more than $8m.

But more often than not, fundraising events and auctions will state "all proceeds going to Christchurch" while failing to specify a particular fund or what the money is actually going on.

Weldon says he is continually hearing about new charitable trusts being set up "with the best of intentions to help the people of Christchurch" but says the administrative costs involved may not necessarily provide the best outcome.

He stops short of warning people not to do it but says the sensible approach might be to place donations in one of the three main funds. The one he spearheads was set up by the government.

Its aim is not the provision of emergency relief or to fund rebuilding of roads and sewers.

"In the middle fits the things people don't think about too much. They're the places you go as part of your life but now aren't there.

"Things like sports fields, churches, parks, art galleries, school halls and gyms built on car washes and sausage sizzles - community infrastructure."

Overseas evidence, he says, shows that the absence of those things makes life harder for a community.

"But it is funding those things that the community won't be in a fit state to do for a while."

The appeal fund will use local organisations and agencies instead of establishing its own resources to deliver the end product. Weldon is adamant that is the best way to rebuild communities and where the trust can get most bang for its buck.

He says one of the issues faced in Haiti after its devastating earthquake was the level of duplication across organisations.

That's why the big three funds here are liaising with each other to limit that.

And there are clear differentiations.

The Salvation Army, operating out of a warehouse because three of its four buildings are in the red zone and the fourth is badly damaged, is concentrating its efforts on practical and personal help. It has been door-knocking, serving meals, delivering food parcels and, as of this past week, began issuing the first of its 4000 care cards, each loaded with $500 that can be used for house repairs, food, clothing or other goods.

The aim is to ensure any money spent is spent with Christchurch firms. Its earthquake appeal fund has so far raised $12m and all of it has been, or will be, spent on people affected.

Major Robbie Ross says the organisation wants to be in a position to provide long-term help.

"'People are in a huge amount of need here."

With no quick fix, the Sallies are planning to spend some of the money helping people with housing issues further down the track and are also considering other initiatives that may help cover problems such as under- insurance.

As with the Salvation Army appeal, any money donated to Red Cross for Christchurch must go to an individual or family.

Red Cross chief executive John Ware says the organisation is still in the initial phase of distributing emergency hardship grants, for which there are strict criteria.

Red Cross has also given bereavement grants of $10,000 to each of the families of people killed in the earthquake, regardless of nationality.

So far its appeal has raised $30m, boosted by a further $9m that had not yet been distributed from the first earthquake appeal.

However, the total is a long way from meeting all needs. The Red Cross had estimated about 10,000-12,000 people would need their help but the figure is now much higher.

Grants are approved by an independent commission headed by Canterbury resident Sir John Hansen.

Last week that had received 19,800 grant applications and is now processing about 3000 claims a day. Assuming most of the grants are approved, they and the bereavement grants will soak up about $20m.

The Red Cross is providing all the administrative support, which means that every dollar donated goes straight to the people of Christchurch.

On the bright side, donations from overseas have yet to be added to the Red Cross total. Ware says Japan's disaster will inevitably have an effect on that amount, but there had been a "tremendous response" from sister Red Cross organisations in several countries, and particularly from Britain.

Weldon and his team plan to approach wealthy New Zealanders living overseas, as well as people and corporations with close links to the country.

He expects to travel overseas to make his pitch and to host functions to "bring people out of the woodwork".

"These people are asked by a lot of people, a lot of times, to donate a lot of money. We want to create opportunities where people with significant amounts of money feel like they can have some influence on where it goes."

Weldon sees the job as an ongoing role and admits he'll be doing a little more homework on the people he intends to approach because of Japan.

"Japan has just made our ability to get that money that much harder but I am not thinking too much about the end game or the impact of Japan. I will do what I can for Christchurch."


Christchurch Quake Appeal - set up by the government Fund total so far: $20 million Funds channelled to seven areas: Hardship and relief; heritage and culture; sport and recreation; education; spiritual and faith; economic revitalisation; environment. Fund distribution decided by: Internal Affairs and Treasury secretaries.

Red Cross Earthquake Appeal Fund total so far: $30 million, plus $9 million undistributed after September 4 appeal. Funds go to: Individuals or families Fund distribution decided by: Independent commission headed by Sir John Hansen.

Salvation Army Earthquake Appeal Fund total so far: $11 million (includes some funds from September 4 earthquake appeal) Funds go to: Individuals and families Fund distribution decided by: Salvation Army board of trustees (some discretionary funding also available for staff to distribute).

- Sunday Star Times

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