Volunteers put heart and soul into loading aid containers for Tonga

The Aotearoa Tonga Relief Committee is grateful to volunteers who have put their heart into a community aid effort.

Tonga faces a long road to recovery, with most of the population affected by the violent eruption and tsunami that followed, and many areas still scrambling to restore basic necessities.

Executive member Pakilau Manase Lua said loading the containers has been excruciating work.

While the gates have been closed to the public volunteers have been packing the containers.

"It's been a huge effort for our volunteers. As you can appreciate the average weight of these fully packed drums is probably between 120kg and 150kg, but we do it out of love, many of the guys have taken time off work," Pakilau Manase Lua said.

Mt Smart Stadium will be closed to dropoffs again tomorrow, but it is expected to be open again on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in preparation for another shipment.

Those bringing items for their family in Tonga should drive to the O'Rorke Road entrance and the general public can drop off goods at Maurice Road.

Pakilau Manase Lua encourages people to bring their own drums full of water and non-perishable foods, but if people do not have one, he says a plastic wheelie bin will do the trick.

"If you don't have your own, don't steal your neighbours," he said.

There are calls for patience from community leaders with heightened anxiety, frustration and disappointment over the initiative being closed to the public for the past two days.

Pakilau Manase Lua knows it has been tough on many but said, "There is a limited amount of volunteers here, the volunteers are working hard, we don't want to get them injured, we want to keep them safe. To be fair, these people are volunteers, so we are doing our best to clear the decks and to open again."

This shipment of 25 containers is expected to leave Auckland on a Matson vessel on Wednesday night and arrive in Tonga on Saturday.

"Just standard container hire trucks with arms that swing onto the trucks, they are just 20 foot containers so they are not the big 40 foot [containers] so they are easier to handle particularly when landing in Tonga as well. Obviously things depend on the weather, but we can only hope that these containers will reach Tonga by the weekend," he said.

It has been a massive logistical effort with Sir Michael Jones and Matson Shipping providing 21 containers so far and four donated by Swire Shipping.

When Sir Michael saw the rows of containers packed with drums at Mt Smart he said to the volunteers, "I know this is a Kolo Tonga site uso's (brothers) but it also feels like Hopetown."

Tangata whenua have blessed the containers ahead of their departure.


Photo supplied by Pakilau Manase Lua  Caption: Volunteers have been busy collecting basic necessities and loading them into containers bound for Tonga