Member Profile: Waikato / BOP Cancer Society

Cancer hasn’t stopped for COVID-19 – and neither has the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Cancer Society. The local charity says people with cancer and their families need support during these uncertain times more than ever.

Tauranga fundraising coordinator Karen Gemmell talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the Cancer Society and the future of fundraising and events for the community-funded charity.


What are some of the challenges you faced – during lockdown and as we move through the Alert Levels?

The support we provide is often face-to-face, whether that’s transport to treatment or home visits from a supportive care nurse. So for us, the challenge during lockdown was finding ways to provide the level of care and support that people need, but in a safe way.

As we move through the alert levels, the next challenge for us will be responding to a surge in demand for services after delays in diagnoses during lockdown. We know that during lockdown some screening programmes weren’t able to run and some people may not have been able to get scans or other tests they needed. So, we expect to see more clients, and potentially more complex needs due to those delays.


How has the organisation adapted to the conditions?

Some services, like massage therapy, just couldn’t be delivered safely. For other services, like our supportive care nurses, we had to find new ways of working to make sure clients didn’t miss out on the help they needed, like providing phone and email support rather than home visits; creating online communities rather than running physical support groups; and responding to a 300% spike in demand for meals by offering contactless meal delivery.

For some people in the organisation it meant being redeployed into an entirely different role to make sure our services could continue. Our free driving service depends on an amazing team of volunteers. But many are over 65 or vulnerable, so it just wasn’t possible to continue operating that service to the same capacity.

Even so, we still had some clients who wouldn’t be able to get to appointments without transport support. That meant staff picking up the baton to make sure no one missed out on essential treatment for lack of transport.

So, it has really been a team effort to fill the gaps and respond to our clients’ needs.


What will some of the long-term challenges for your organisation be?

We’re a community-funded charity, which means we’re reliant on the generosity of our community to be able to do the work we do. So Covid-19 has thrown up some significant challenges for our organisation.

We had to cancel fundraising events, like Relay For Life in the Bay of Plenty, which was a big blow for us. And many of our community fundraisers had to cancel their events too.

We’re also approaching the 30th anniversary of Daffodil Day which is a huge milestone. Daffodil Day is our biggest national fundraiser and an iconic day for many New Zealanders, so we’re having to plan for a street collection appeal in a post-COVID world.

And of course, we’re conscious that many people are facing hard times ahead, which always puts additional pressure on charities like the Cancer Society to raise the funds they need to operate.


What are your plans for the foreseeable future with regards to operations, fundraising and events?

We’re realistic about the impact COVID-19 will have on income, but we’re committed to being there for Kiwis with cancer and their families, no matter what alert level – so fundraising is more important than ever for us.

We’ve had to be a little more creative in the way we fundraise. For example, during lockdown we launched our online peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, Brave the Shave, which was perfect for lockdown while hair salons were closed and everyone was reaching for the clippers. And it was a great way for people to do something positive for the community that’s a little quirky and fun, while sharing the journey with friends and family and raising funds for a cause they’re passionate about.

But we know shaving your head isn’t for everyone! Now we’re in alert level 2 and some people are heading back to work, we’ve put together our Cuppa For Cancer campaign in the hope that people will donate the cost of a cup of coffee to the Cancer Society, share the campaign on social media and challenge friends and family to make a donation as well.

It may be people aren’t in a position to donate the same amount they might have before COVID-19, but if they and the people they know can spare the cost of a cup of coffee, it’s pretty amazing the impact that can have for people with cancer and their families.

Cuppa for Cancer

Cancer doesn’t stop for Covid and neither have we. We’re still here for Kiwis with cancer to ensure they get the help and support they need. Transport to treatment. One-on-one advice from an experienced cancer nurse. Free accommodation and meals when receiving treatment far from home.You can help. Tell us why you’re donating the cost of a cuppa to the Cancer Society and challenge your friends and family to do it too.Upload a pic or video of your cuppa to social media with the hashtag #cuppaforcancer and tag your mates. Donate today at

Posted by Cancer Society Waikato/Bay of Plenty on Sunday, May 10, 2020


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