Photos at Charmed Flowers, Christchurch. Photo: James Dann

How Christchurch people are working together to support those affected

As Christchurch tries to come to terms with the atrocity perpetrated at the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques, the people who call the city home have found novel ways to support those who are affected. James Dann talked to a few of the helpers.

Charmed Flowers

Charmed Flowers owner Ginny Fagan works on a wreath for the shooting victims. Photo: James Dann

Ginny Fagan, the owner of Charmed Flowers, lives in Riccarton, just around the corner from the Masjid Al Noor mosque. After talking to the son of someone who attended the mosque, she decided to use her skills as a florist to help out. She put a call out on Instagram for volunteers; more than 60 came to help, but there were at least 200 more people who sent messages. Using flowers that were brought in by the volunteers, as well as more donated by United Flower Group, Ginny and her team started to make bouquets and wreaths for the families. There was a sense of urgency – Islamic tradition requires the bodies to be buried as soon as possible. In a new warehouse in the industrial suburb of Wigram, more than 50 wreaths are stacked on trollies. There were so many donated flowers that the team made additional bouquets, as well as two large heart-shaped wreaths. When the bodies have been identified by the coroners and released to the families for burial, Ginny will be ready. With the help of her volunteers, and the generous donations from the public and suppliers, more than $15,000 of flowers will be given to the families.

My Fathers Barbers

Christchurch locals dropping off donations at My Fathers Barbers. Photo: James Dann

While many have given flowers, others have found other ways to contribute. My Fathers Barbers in Riccarton has become a hub for people wanting to support the victims. Owner Matt Brown first got involved in solidarity with another barber who, along with his 3-year-old daughter, had been injured in the shooting. Late Friday, Brown’s friend had posted a message to Facebook from his hospital bed, while his daughter was taken to Starship Hospital for further treatment. Brown knew he had to do something. On Saturday, the My Fathers Barbers Facebook page posted a call for donations of halal food. The meals were dropped off at Theo’s fish shop just across the road, before being delivered to the makeshift support centre for the families of the victims.

The response was so overwhelming that another call out had to be made, this time asking people to stop bringing more. On Sunday, they turned their attention to practical items, publishing a list of things the families needed: bottled water, nappies, disposable cups. That day the barbershop was a hive of activity, with a constant stream of people popping in to drop off items. As well as the items for the families affected, many people have donated petrol vouchers for those delivering the items. By 2pm, they had already made 10 trips to the support centre, and more than $2,000 in petrol vouchers has been dropped off. All the while, two men were sitting under aprons, having their hair cut and their fades updated.

Those who came to donate were of all colours and creeds, the only things that linked them being that they lived here, and they wanted to help. The list of items they require is constantly being updated – right now the urgent need is for supermarket vouchers. If you want to help, check their Facebook page here.

Grizzly Baked Goods

There was also a need for supplies at the hospital. Many staff there were working extended shifts through the night, and didn’t have time to pop out to grab something to eat. Another small business stepped up to fill that need. Tucked away in the suburb of Sydenham, Grizzly Baked Goods make breads, bagels, and other baked goodies primarily to supply to cafes around town. Their biggest retail day of the week is Saturdays, when they have a stall at the Christchurch Farmers Market. As the news was breaking, owner Sam Ellis made a quick changed of plans: instead of running the stall at the market, he took that day’s production in to the team at the hospital. The small amount of stock that they had left was sold via their hole-in-the-wall at the bakery, and all proceeds were donated to the support effort. Ellis says one customer paid $50 for a loaf, knowing that it was going to the relief effort.

The Great Hall

The Botanic Gardens tribute wall. Photo: James Dann

The floral tribute along the wall of the Botanic Gardens has become the hub for grieving and remembrance. It is always busy, with hundreds of people visiting and dozens of TV networks using it as a background for their live crosses. For those who might be a little overwhelmed by the people, or the flowers and messages that have been left, there is a quiet space just on the other side of Rolleston Avenue. The Great Hall is one of the spaces in the historic Arts Centre, and it has been opened to the public during the day for those looking for a place for contemplative remembrance. Under one of the grand, restored stained-glass windows is a small memorial, with plenty of seats for those who want a little time out.

Christchurch Victims Organising Committee

The first few days after an event like this are chaos, with people just doing whatever they can to help. As the days go by, organisational structures form to better coordinate the response – a particularly useful development in a situation like this, where there are so many people who want to help. The Christchurch Victims Organising Committee is one such group. Their primary purpose is helping the families of the victims, including those who are still in the hospital. Initially, they were based at Hagley College, a high school not far from the hospital. Here, they has a space for the families to come together, to be fed, to pray, to find out information about their loved ones. The centre remained here through Monday, meaning that school had to be cancelled for that day. The CVOC has now been moved to the old Horticultural Hall next to Hagley Oval.

CVOC is the group that is distributing the donations collected by My Fathers Barbers and others. The committee’s Facebook has an up-to-date list of the items that they are currently accepting. It is always worth checking their page, as they have been getting so many donations that they have had to stop accepting certain items. In the brief time I was at their HQ, I saw people dropping off toys for the children to play with, a boot-load of baking from a school, and more water.

One of the people helping with CVOC is Umar Kuddus. His flowing white robes are covered with a high-vis vest, on the back of which the word “burial” has been crossed out and replaced with “security”. His words, and his faith, are strong and defiant. “If we stop going to our mosques, he’s won.” Umar, like many others, came down to Christchurch at the weekend to help. He says there were 12 other prospective helpers on his plane alone. The CVOC volunteers – from Christchurch, further afield in New Zealand, and even Australia – have been organised into different groups, such as for preparing food, driving families around and translating for the families. CVOC is also helping families to access services and money from government services like ACC.

The community in Christchurch have left a mark on him, Umar says. “Thank you to everyone that is stopping on the street, to say ‘sorry for your loss’, to give me a hug. The love and support they’ve shown, it’s been overwhelming and really heartwarming.” The terrorist tried to rip our country apart by targeting one community but, as Umar sees it, he’s failed.

“He’s brought every aspect of New Zealand society together.”

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How you can help

The New Zealand Islamic Information Centre (NZIIC) has set up a crowdfunding campaign on Launchgood with all funds raised distributed to the victims and families affected by the Christchurch attack. All proceeds will go towards helping with their immediate, short-term needs.

The New Zealand Council of Victim Support Groups has also set up a crowdfunding campaign on Givealittle. Victim Support says it will use all donations received to the page to provide support and resources for people affected by the Christchurch shootings and their family members.

The Al Manar trust has launched an emergency appeal for victims of the Christchurch attack. “It is a very tragic situation in Christchurch,” the page reads. “Many of our beloved brothers and sisters were martyred. This is to offer a simple help from the community around New Zealand to support the affected families.”

Rugby player Sonny Bill Williams, who is Muslim, has partnered with MATW (Muslims Around the World) Project to raise funds for victims’ families. From the donate page, select emergency appeal.


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