By RSA National President, BJ Clark
"Poppy donations make a huge difference. It can mean that if someone has to visit the doctor then they can still afford their groceries or to turn their heating on that week."
On 17 April thousands of volunteers, including at least 500 Defence Force members, will be out around the country, giving out poppies in exchange for donations to the 2015 Poppy Appeal.
Every Poppy Appeal is special, but the Gallipoli centenary has given this year’s special resonance. There is a strong focus on the commitment of those who have served – and today we honour the memory of those who have gone before by caring for those still with us.
Members of the public, donating to the appeal, will be aware their gift will be going to help veterans, former and current servicemen and women and their dependants but many may not know just how those funds are distributed.
The RSA has very strict criteria regarding how money collected through donations is used. It can only be used for the welfare of former and current servicemen and women, their spouses or partners, widows, widowers and dependants, whether or not they are RSA members.
It also isn’t widely known that donations are distributed in the area where they have been collected. Local donations don’t go into a big national pool but into individual local Poppy Appeal trusts.
Each RSA is a separate incorporated society and is audited independently. Each also has its own support committee which works with voluntary support advisors to make decisions on where and how poppy funds can be used to most effectively support those local people who need it.
The funds are used in many ways, ranging from contributing towards doctors’ fees and dental costs, through to specialist surgery, such as cataract operations, spectacle costs and purchase and maintenance of mobility scooters, heating costs and minor home maintenance.
Every case is assessed individually. Usually we make a contribution to costs, often on a 50 per cent basis. However, if someone is in real need and simply cannot afford to pay for something then we may fund it all.
Giving local clubs this decision-making responsibility works very well. They are the ones who are on the ground, talking with local people, veterans and members.
Many people, particularly the elderly, are reticent or embarrassed about asking for help. Local connections mean you will hear about people in need and people often feel more comfortable seeking or accepting help from locals.
Many veterans do not have a lot of spare cash. We frequently hear of situations where people cannot afford to pay for things many of us take for granted.
Poppy donations make a huge difference. It can mean that if someone has to visit the doctor then they can still afford their groceries or to turn their heating on that week.
Helping with denture or glasses or hearing aid costs can ensure someone can eat properly, read their paper and watch TV or listen to the radio and talk to people on the phone.
We hear reports of cases like this all the time. It’s very satisfying that, through the generosity of the public in every part of New Zealand, we can make a difference for those people who have served.
People also tend to think of veterans as elderly, but those who served in Afghanistan and Timor are veterans too. We work with people of all ages. For instance, individual RSAs across the country are working with a number of veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Of course, PTSD has existed for as long as there have been wars. In the past people were shot for ‘cowardice’ or it would have been referred to as shell shock. Today it is recognised for the disabling condition it is.
The RSA’s position working within communities means we will often hear of someone in need. In such a situation, Poppy Appeal funds may also be used to provide immediate relief, for instance if someone is facing eviction or unable to buy food because they are not coping.
It also means we are in a good position to point them in the direction of Defence, Veterans’ Affairs and ACC. We work closely with them and they provide very good support for veterans in terms of pensions, disability allowances and specialist therapy.
I cannot stress strongly enough how vital the Poppy Appeal is to enabling us to provide the kind of support outlined here.
We could not do any of this without the dedication of our collectors. I take my hat off to each and every one of the people who man collection boxes.
We rely so much on this incredible group of people. In some very small towns we might give out just seven or eight boxes of poppies and in large cities hundreds – but we see equal commitment and passion from every team.
To our collectors and to the public who donate so generously, words cannot express our appreciation of what you do.
To make a $3 donation text POPPY to 4662. You can also donate online at rsa.org.nz/Donation. From 13 April, donations can also be made at ANZ Bank branches and at Z Service Stations.