While Christchurch continues to grapple with liquefaction, aftershocks and a rising death toll, many people here in Dunedin are searching for what they can do. There is almost a desperation in the air, as people long to do something.
Perhaps that's why today's collection of bagged lunches has been such a huge success.
University of Canterbury based Student Volunteer Army received a fair amount of media attention after they formed and mobilized themselves, largely via Facebook, after the September quake. (Yet again, behold the power of social media!) They have mobilized again and thousands of student volunteers are expected to respond to calls for non-emergency assistance around the quake zone. I checked out their website and it is strikingly simple in this day of hyped up media everything. It is strictly functional. Either register that you need non-emergency help. Or that you are available to help. Follow their updates on Facebook.
A message requesting bagged, non-perishable lunches for the Student Volunteer Army went out to Dunedin yesterday. The goal: to collect 10,000 lunches. With two hours of collection left today, I believe they now have over 14,000 lunches.
In Christchurch, help has been arriving from overseas. Over 300 Australian police arrived to a round of applause at the airport. A Japanese search and rescue team was here amazingly fast, with their efforts focused on the building housing the language school where several Japanese students are thought to have perished. A rescue team from the States has arrived as well.
Across the South Island and beyond, I've been so impressed, but not surprised with how NZ'ers from all walks of life have done what they can. Farmers are showing up with their mobile water tanks. Churches are turning into ad-hoc service centers. A small business owner down from Auckland is driving around giving away cell phones and chargers. With no working sewer system in much of Christchurch, many locals are digging a hole in their backyards. With no electricity, they are using their gas barbeques outside. James and I talked about how many Christchurch residents probably grew up either on a farm, doing a lot of camping or having some other previous experience rendering them completely capable of "roughing it" as needed. Their reputation for "rolling up their sleeves and getting it done" is an accurate one.
Back here in Dunedin, I've spent most of this beautiful Saturday working away in my office at Uni. Having prepared some bagged lunches, I just now went out to add them to the collection. The collection station is just outside my building and I've been watching it through the day. There has been a steady stream of Dunedinites dropping off these 14,000+ lunches, directed and collected by students who are then piling them high on crates and loading them into trucks. They've got the music blasting with the base turned up so high my windows are vibrating. The energy oozing out of these students is organized, optimistic, dedicated and fun. (I'll remember this when they show up hung over to the classes I'm tutoring next week!)
The shelves in the grocery stores are already quite empty since most food items are routed and stored in Christchurch on the way to Dunedin. But the shelves that were particurlaly empty, almost entirely sold out, were the shelves holding the items requested for the bagged lunches. Dunedinites have answered the call for assistance with gusto, relieved, I think, to do something.