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Phoenix rises from the ashes

Margaret Goff wins Volunteer Nelson exceptional volunteer award for sparking the start of a massive community-led volunteer response during the Tasman bushfires                               

Story by Judene Edgar, Encompass Strategic Services Ltd

Photo caption: Teacher AideMarg Goff, seated centre front, at her surprise award ceremony at Nayland Primary school on International Women’s Day.  Photo:Judene Edgar

Margaret Goff didn’t really know what she was starting when she opened the doors of the Suburbs Football Clubrooms at Saxton Field to accept food donations, but she knew she had to do something.

In the same way that one small spark started the massive Tasman bushfires, one small idea started what turned into a massive community-led volunteer response that provided thousands of meals, shoulders to cry on, letters of thanks to firefighters, and gave purpose to hundreds of volunteers wanting to do something to help.

Goff’s connection to Wakefield and the surrounding area runs deep.  Edward and Mary Ann Baigent, considered the founders of Wakefield, are her great great great grandparents.  Edward Baigent started a flour mill in 1844 and the first saw mill in 1845, while Mary Ann founded Wakefield School which celebrated 175 years November last year.

The Nayland Primary School teacher aide and part-time cleaner at the clubrooms, knew she needed to do something.

“I saw people offering to help and asking where they could drop off food, so I immediately thought of the clubrooms,” says Goff.

“I really only thought it was going to be me in the kitchen and maybe a couple of others helping.”

The first call went out 2.59pm on the first day of the fire, and saw 10 volunteers arrive and food start to trickle in. 

“After our first night we only had six loaves of bread and a few veges left so we put the word out and suddenly we were inundated,” she says.

“We fed anyone who needed it – Police, firefighters, Civil Defence, evacuees, HUHA, vets, SPCA.”

The clubrooms fast became the region’s hub of kindness with up to 100 volunteers at any one time providing hot meals, sandwiches and care packages as well as vital supplies for the tireless firefighters such as thick woollen socks, lip balm, insect repellent and strapping tape.

After nearly three weeks of 15-hour days, Goff is rightfully a hero to the children at Nayland Primary School, and some of the students got the opportunity to thank her last Friday.

“I got asked if I could stay at school for a staff meeting, but there wasn’t one,” she says.

Instead, Principal Janice Gulbransen had assembled a small group of children who were there along with Volunteer Nelson’s Belinda Harte and Judene Edgar, and nominee Rachel Boyack to present her with a volunteer award.

“Tragedy brings out the caring that we have for others and people step up in many ways of support,” says Gulbransen.

The Board of Trustees also stepped up ensuring Goff was still paid while she continued her valuable community service and becoming a role model for the pupils.

“Lots of children here were affected by the fires because their parents are firefighters or first aiders, so we wanted to say thank you,” says year 6 student Emerald McCartney.

“I couldn’t think of a better person to receive a volunteer award in recognition of her leadership and service to the Nelson Tasman community,” says Boyack.

“Margaret is a selfless hero, who had an idea, made it happen, and enabled a whole lot of people to help, and a whole lot more to be helped, during these difficult times.”

Nelson City Mayor Rachel Reese, who was unable to attend as she was in Wellington, sent a heartfelt personal citation which was read at the small ceremony to an overwhelmed Goff.

“Rather than being shaken into inaction and fear, Margaret stepped up within hours of the outbreak, with only one purpose, to help those in need, however they needed it.

Out of the ashes rose our phoenix.”

Goff was presented with a certificate of appreciation, a Volunteer New Zealand badge, a $50 supermarket gift card and a Wax Bar voucher.  The Volunteer Nelson volunteer awards are proudly supported by the Car Company Nelson.

VN: For more about the volunteer effort during the Tasman Fires, read our blog story: NZ Volunteers: A force stronger than nature

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