“Love your work Smithy, will get onto it,” and “Gidday champ – I’m sure we’ve got some stuff we can dig out and send up.”
These were among the Facebook comments to the ‘champ’ – the champ being Leona Smith. In fact there’s a whole family of champs – Leona, husband Graeme and daughters Alana, 16, and Elle, 15.
They’re champs because they’re making a difference to lives in Fiji.
Over the last 16 years, the Smiths have visited Fiji 11 times, and on each occasion have taken around 100 kilograms of sports gear - rugby and soccer strips, football boots and rugby, soccer and water polo balls.
“One year we organised a boot amnesty and took between 180 and 200 pairs to Fiji,” says Leona. That was enough for 13 rugby teams.
It all began when Graeme Smith wore a Chiefs singlet at a resort in Fiji. “Oh Mr Smith, we love your shirt” said the staff. So Graeme took off the shirt and gave it to the Fijians. They loved it.
“So we said, right, the next time we go, we are going to have a bit of a rally around and take some stuff,” says Leona. “Since then it has snowballed,”
At the time of the first trip back to Fiji, the Smiths were both involved with the Chiefs and the Steamers and they scored a lot of ex-playing kits.
“The Fijians loved it, ‘cos everyone in the team looked the same,” adds Leona. “They suddenly looked like a sports team, and anything that helps these amazing athletes feel more professional, more part of a team, then we will do it.”
On each trip, the Smiths cram their own gear into carry-on luggage and 100 kilos of sports gear is packed into checked-in luggage. “We have fallen in love with Fiji and the Fijian people and we know what a difference this gear makes to their lives,” she says.
Now the Smiths are at it again. Their visit to Fiji this year will be their 12th, and the call has gone out for more gear.
“We just encourage people to keep a bag at the back of their wardrobe and every time they decide they don’t have use for something, they should chuck it in the bag,” says Leona.
And on Facebook, help is on its way. “Hi Guys – I have still got the running shoes for you” and “I have got a tub of jerseys and shorts – I’ll vacuum pack them and drop them to you. Also have shoulder pads and head gear.”
The Smiths are planning another family excursion to the friendly isles in October.
If you have some sports gear to help them achieve their 100 kilogram luggage allowance, call Leona on: 0274 986 425 or email: Leona@leonasmith.nz