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Coasters helping others through challenging times

Sanaea Sanjana on Unsplash

A trust that helps South Westland people suffering hardship was formed at the perfect time, just months before the Covid-19 pandemic affected both migrant workers and locals.

The South Westland Emergency Relief Trust for Families (SERF) was set up as a charitable trust in September 2019, to provide support for families between Ross and Jackson Bay.

The area is isolated and people depend on each other, says a team member, Marj Vermaat.

“Our communities in South Westland are really supportive and do really help others.”

By 2019 locals had realised they needed a structure to facilitate this and to raise money so it would be available when required. Little did they know how prescient this was.

In the latter half of March 2020, the international Covid-19 pandemic closed New Zealand’s borders and sent the country into a seven-week lockdown, trapping migrant workers.

Marj says Civil Defence was “fantastic” and SERF worked alongside it to direct migrant workers to help and information. Many lost their jobs because of the crisis and Civil Defence funded food parcels that SERF helped distribute.

While many of these workers have now returned to their home countries, local residents are struggling more than in the past. The effects of the crisis continue.

“It feels like it’s kind of taking over at the moment, but that’s not all we do,” Marj says.

Providing practical support

Since its formation, the trust has helped more than 100 South Westland individuals and families with financial support, medical equipment and practical items, such as firewood, coal and food.

It’s hard sometimes asking for help when you don’t necessarily have anything to give,” Marj says.


The trust saves people from stumbling on in such situations.

Assistance includes for those with medical needs and no health insurance. For example, one mum broke her foot and SERF provided firewood, and vouchers to give to the person who looked after her children.

Hot cross buns ready to be given to the community for Easter this year by the South Westland Emergency Relief Trust for Families (SERF). Photo: SERF

The trust supports existing services and charities and works with businesses such as Foodstuffs and the Four Square in Franz Josef to alleviate hardship.

Marj says SERF is run by volunteers and money comes from fund-raising, donations from West Coast individuals and businesses, and grants, including from the nationwide Tindall Foundation.

SERF’s Facebook says, “We thank all those that offer funding and donate to charities, such as ourselves, the aroha you show is immeasurable”.

Creating sustainability

Other organisations are also part of sustaining life in South Westland.

New Zealand and international border closures have resulted in the loss of many tourism jobs, yet both the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) are offering people new jobs.

Marj says that locally, DOC’s Jobs for Nature programme has mainly focused on contracting businesses which didn’t have enough work because of the tourism downturn. The contracts avoid the employees being made redundant.

So there’s a huge change from tourism to nature jobs,” she says.


According to DOC’s website, Jobs for Nature helps revitalise communities through nature-based employment and stimulate the economy post Covid-19.

Meanwhile ZIP information says the entity will utilise “boots on the ground” labour and technologies it has developed to permanently remove possums, stoats and rats from 100,000 hectares of South Westland.

Despite difficult times, through innovation, generosity and people helping people, South Westland is surviving.

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For further information:

About SERF

About Jobs for Nature

About Zero Invasive Predators


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