By ROBYN BRISTOW
As Waiau residents began picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake last November, more than 1100 kilometres away a former resident was pondering how he could help.
Verdon Kelliher’s first impulse was to head back to the small town, which was at the epicentre of the event, and help restore phone communication which he had helped install when he lived in the North Canterbury town.
But instead, the Aucklander, who “back in the day” was the part time caretaker at the Waiau swimming pool, decided to turn his hand to raising funds for a new pool to replace the old one “decimated” in the quake.
To date his efforts have helped raise around $125,000 and he is far from finished with the job which has become “all consuming”, he says.
He is now busy planning a Trade Me auction from which he hopes to boost the fund by $100,000.
Verdon’s fundraising plans took just a week to become a reality.
He says locals had enough on their hands with their broken homes, businesses and infrastructure and frightened kids, to even consider trying to fundraise for broken community facilities.
So after chatting with one or two North Canterbury mates he set up a Give a Little page which in a short space of time seemed to take on a life of its own as New Zealanders, including many schools, businesses and groups, swung in behind his efforts.
” The first big push came from a group called the Fight Club “which I had never heard of and still don’t know what it is”, he says.
However, it includes corporate and high profile people who were given the challenge of donating $100 each to the cause.
“It took off and they raised $3500,” says Verdon.
Another friend, who owned a company, “plucked a date from thin air”, called a National Mufti Day, and sent out thousands of emails to schools and businesses to take part.
Over 50 schools and 50 businesses responded to the call.
“Around 31,000 people, including two from Australia took part which brought in nearly $60,000,’ he says.
“I was really into it then and just before Christmas we hit $100,000,” he says.
“Then businesses started to come on board in a big way with Mike Greer Homes the first, offering the design and engineering of a new pool for free.
“That was a shot in the arm,” says Verdon.
To keep the fundraising efforts alive he asked people who had some standing in the community and beyond to do videos in support of the Waiau pool, including Richie McCaw and Troy Flavell.
“It has been an interesting process.
“I never thought for one minute how hard it would be asking people for money and re-asking.
“It has become quite a passion,” says Vernon.
Today the Give a Little page is showing $90,448, but with cheques and direct credits going direct into a special pool account, the fund now stands at $125,000.
And the Trade Me auction, which should take place about the end of February, could nearly double this total.
To date furniture, outdoor furniture, a motor home holiday, bungy jumps, chocolates, a signed cricket bat, a Milford overnight cruise, art, signed jerseys from the Highlanders and Breakers, drench, seed, brushkiller, cricket items and jewellery have all been donated with the aim of raising up to $100,000.
It is hoped the auction can begin by the last week in February.
The pool fundraising committee chair Emma Duncan says Verdon “sure got the momentum going” and his efforts now mean the committee can look forward to applying for grants to boost what is in the coffers.
In the meantime a further $6000 has been added to the fundraising efforts with Steve Pullman from the Christchurch’s Plains Motorcycle Club, handing over a cheque on Sunday.
Steve fundraised the money through the Wonder Rally held at the Waiau Hotel in January. Emma says the amount was overwhelming but very welcome.
She says it is hoped a new 25 metre pool can be built with the cost expected to be around a “ball park” figure of between $600,000 to a $1 million.
Meanwhile a temporary pool was proving to be hit, particularly during the holiday period.
Emma says it is important for every child to have the ability to learn to swim, particularly with the Waiau River so close.