Community support funds new shuttle

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Kerry Mitchell, director of ceremonies for South Island Hato Hone St John, speaks to invited guests at the dedication of the new Ashburton health shuttle.
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When the Hato Hone Aotearoa St John (St John) Health Shuttle phone rang through to the Mid Canterbury office of St John on August 19 last year, the now former-St John Area executive officer Elaine Vallender thought it was a routine call.

But to her shock, it was a member of the public to inform her of a crash near Burnham involving the Ashburton health shuttle.

The caller said while there were no fatalities there were multiple injuries. Elaine said the fact there were no fatalities ‘‘was thanks to the skills of volunteer driver of the health shuttle, John Baird.’’

St John chief executive Peter Bradley later recognised John for his driving skills by presenting him with a Chief Executive’s Commendation certificate.

In the week following the crash Elaine said ‘‘members of the community were popping into the office to make small donations to help with a replacement vehicle, and these donations soon mounted up.

‘‘As our community does, people wanted to support not only the replacement of the shuttle but also those who had been injured in the crash,’’ she said.

Baking and flowers were dropped at the office and the wider St John family stepped up with a roster to help support the families taking turns with things like cooking meals and other support.

Three St John volunteers were on the shuttle at the time of the crash, two in driving roles and one in a personal capacity.

The drivers said shortly after the crash ‘‘we’ll be back to driving as soon as we can,’’ and they are.

Elaine was impressed with the professionalism of the way St John dealt with the crash.

‘‘All our volunteer drivers were relieved of their duties for a week following the crash.’’

Attendees at the blessing of the St John Health Shuttle in Ashburton

But aware of the importance of offering the health shuttle St John knew some form of transport was going to be needed straight away so they could continue to provide the much needed service.

On the Monday following the crash, the Aoraki health shuttle from Timaru was used to take clients to their appointments, and for the following five months it was the old Central Otago health shuttle.

‘‘They had just replaced their van so it was perfect as we had to wait for a new one to come in from overseas,’’ Elaine said.

In April a blessing was held for Ashburton’s new health shuttle. Many individuals and community organisations provided donations towards the replacement shuttle and two local families made major financial gifts.

Elaine received a phone call from Rosalyn Moore saying she and husband Ian would like to make a donation.

‘‘I gave her the bank account details and when I checked our bank accounts I was very grateful for their generous donation.’’ The Moore family are very community-minded people with Ian serving as volunteer firefighter, as well as a Justice of the Peace.

The other family to make a large financial contribution, was a bequest from the late-David and Jan Heal.

Jan had passed a few years earlier but David only died a week after the shuttle crash.

They were supporters of the health shuttle and their daughter-in-law works in the 111 Communication Centre for St John in Christchurch.

The family knew making the bequest was what their parents would have wanted.

Over the last year the Ashburton health shuttle volunteer drivers have given 4000 hours.

The current team of volunteers is made up of 22 people, some are still working, some are retired.

They are looking for a couple more drivers.

The drivers are well trained in driving skills and how to handle the vehicle as well as first aid skills.