Saturday, 14 September 2013

Wellington Free Ambulance street appeal

Today was a fine calm day – rather surprising after the violent wind storm most of NZ suffered in the last few days. The Canterbury region was particularly badly hit, with hundreds of trees uprooted, power lines down and farm irrigation systems damaged beyond recognition. Those poor Cantabrians, many still recovering from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, and now this.

Wellington had its share of mayhem, but today was lovely. It would have been perfect for a bike ride, but I had something more useful to do, as today was the Wellington Free Ambulance street appeal. For the last few years I have helped this wonderful organisation as a collector for their annual street appeal.

I have taken part in collections for several other charities, but this one is particularly important to me, as I feel hugely indebted to them. They attended both my parents in Paraparaumu on a number of occasions. Twice they came to my mother when she activated her medical alarm (another service WFA provide) when she suffered a stroke. And they have assisted John several times – twice when he was having a heart attack, and twice more with heart “scares”. At all times the crews have been fantastic. I cannot thank them enough, and my time as a collector is a small way of saying “thank you so very much”.

The Wellington Free Ambulance (WFA) is the only free ambulance service in New Zealand. Everywhere else, patients get billed for their ambulance help. They service an area covering not only Wellington, but Porirua and the Kapiti Coast as far as Otaki, and the Wairarapa.

Another service they provide is education for Wellingtonians to learn CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and how to operate a defibrillator. I went to such a course recently, and found it very interesting and useful – though I do hope I will never need to use the skills I learnt.

Obviously, for all these services to remain free to the people of the Wellington region, it needs to raise vital funds. So I thought it was very pleasing to see how many volunteer collectors were out in the city when I came into town to do my two-hour stint.

Street collecting is always an interesting experience. It’s an exercise in people-watching. The instructions collectors get before the event, are that they must not shake the collection bucket – it’s called “passive collecting” – and must not block any passage ways. So you try and attract the attention of passers-by by making eye-contact, and smiling.

On sunny days, people wearing sunglasses are hard to make eye-contact with. Some people studiously avoid looking at you, or quickly avert their gaze once you’ve made contact. Worse, a lot of people don’t see you at all, or are absorbed in their smartphone (I’m surprised that there are not more collisions on the footpath!).

You try to make eye-contact, but many people are absorbed in their smart phones

But many people are very generous. Many people dig into their pocket or purse to give you their “shrapnel”. Some are very generous with $5, or $10 or even a few $20 notes. I even collected a donation from one of the local MPs. Most people take a sticker – it shows they have ‘done their bit’. Some point to the sticker on their lapel as they eyeball you, as if to say “you’ve already got my money”. Some decline the sticker, saying “they don’t stay stuck”. And it’s true, I did see a lot of stickers stuck to the pavement.

I was stationed on Lambton Quay in the lunch hour, and of course the footpath is very busy with people escaping from their offices. There was a small parade of ambulances and Rapid Response Vehicles and support vehicles, complete with short blasts of the sirens, to draw attention to the street appeal.

A parade of ambulances and support vehicles

By the time I finished my stint, I was glad I was able to hand over a pleasingly heavy bucket to the Ambulance people.

Two of the wonderful Wellington Free Ambulance paramedics

The woman on the left in the above photo was one of the people in the TV programme "Street Hospital", which started on TV 2 last night (Thursdays, 8pm). This is a factual series which follows the WFA paramedics as they attempt to "treat those suffering from alcohol related harm, dancing injuries and other mishaps as well as more serious conditions in Wellington’s party central. [...] The series also shows how the WFA Street Hospital team works with Police, licensed establishments, door staff and City Council Walk Wise staff, in an attempt to reduce harm and in turn, allow others to have a fantastic time."

Postscript  -  On 21 September I received a thank you letter from the Wellington Free Ambulance, which said that the appeal raised $105,000. So thank you, people of Wellington!  

No comments:

Post a Comment