Verna Rutherford might be
the closest thing Dunedin has to a Santa Claus.
Verna Rutherford packs
another Operation Christmas Child box destined for a child
in Fiji while Benjamin Knopp (6) checks out what goes into
it. Photo by Dan Hutchinson.
''This is the start of the disappearance of my lounge,'' she
says, surveying the first 75 boxes to arrive for this year's
Operation Christmas Child.
She co-ordinates the Dunedin operation, hoarding away bins
full of toys, clothes and stationery to top up the gift packs
that will be sent to Fijian children this year.
Last year Miss Rutherford had 840 boxes stacked up in her
house, not to mention 18 other large bins full of goodies.
She is a beneficiary and knows the value of a dollar but a
lot of her disposable income goes on bargains for the boxes,
in addition to all the other stuff that is donated.
''On back-to-school week, notebooks are 5c each, so I buy 500
of them ... I have a whole pile of jandals that were dropped
at the door when they were cheap - two 60-litre bins.''
In a country where school stationery can set parents back a
month's wages, Miss Rutherford makes sure there is a pencil
case full of the essentials and exercise books.
Some things are banned, such as toy guns and water pistols,
electronics or anything that can leak. No religious material
''But you give a boy a ball and a whistle and he is captain
of the team.''
Even though Fiji is a tropical country, beanies are in
fashion, so they are a regular feature in the boxes.
A lot of effort goes in to making sure everyone gets a
similar gift and the boxes are sorted into age groups and
into boys' and girls' categories.
''These might be the only presents they get in their lives.''
She was hoping Operation Christmas Child would catch on in
southern parts of New Zealand as it has further north, even
if it means giving up more of her living room.
Another volunteer, Kirsteen McLay, said Miss Rutherford was
''amazing'' and an increasing number of others were now
Mrs McLay said some of the presents, like stationery, might
not seem very special to children in New Zealand but they
meant a lot to those who received them.
To find out more or to get involved go to www.samaritanspurse.org.nz
or contact Dunedin volunteer Kirsteen McLay on 455-9551.
- by Dan Hutchinson