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Food donations fly in for Tonga

An aerial photograph over an area of Tonga last month, showing ash covering the roofs of houses and surrounding vegetation. PHOTO/NEW ZEALAND DEFENCE FORCE

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Tongans living in Wairarapa have sent a substantial delivery of food to their families after a massive show of support from the Wairarapa community.

In the wake of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption, the Pasifika o Wairarapa Trust set up a relief appeal across the region.

The community responded swiftly, donating 2.5 tonnes of non-perishable food which Wairarapa Tongans could then deliver to their families.

Pasifika Wairarapa Council chairman Luther Toloa said the amount of food was significant, especially considering the appeal only lasted 10 days.

“For our part, we did damn well,” Toloa said.

“A big thank you to all the people in Wairarapa for what they have provided.”

Any monetary donations went towards more bulk food to top up what had been collected.

The food, as well as toiletries, were taken to Wellington and loaded into containers to be sent on to Auckland, and finally Tonga.

Toloa said the three Wairarapa councils had shown support for the appeal by providing staffed collection points.

Graeme Reisima of Reisima Transport, left, helping Tongan nationals living in Wairarapa Tupou Leaáemanu and Francis Muller load 2.5 tonnes of donated food for their families. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Businesses across the region also got on board, including farm supplies company PGG Wrightson, Breadcraft, Scott’s Ag Contracting, and Reisima Transport – who freighted the items free of charge to Wellington.

“All of those organisations donated their labour, provided equipment, or dealt with the logistics,” Toloa said.

He said that Wairarapa’s schools and churches had also donated beyond all expectations.

“We’re humbled by their generosity, given that we are also going through trying times in Wairarapa with omicron. Nevertheless, folks saw through their kind-hearted donations to provide for families in need.”

When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano erupted last month, Tonga’s main communication line was severed.

Earlier this week, more than five weeks after the eruption and subsequent tsunami, the connection was restored and Tongans living in New Zealand could finally reach out to their families.

Toloa said that food supply remained the priority for Tonga in the short term, with an emphasis on keeping supply lines open.

“That’s being alleviated now from support from families and through the government, which is managing the main welfare support for people. But there are without a doubt long-term issues to be dealt with around the fishing industry and farming.”

Toloa said many of Tonga’s landholders owned small farms, growing vegetables such as taro.

Much of the farmland had been decimated by ash in the fallout from the eruption.

“They will take years to get that up and running fully,” Toloa said.

Damaged infrastructure was another concern that would need to be dealt with in the medium-term.

“There are still opportunities later on for more focused support in some areas, but we’ll wait and see what happens.”

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