Big-hearted giver counts her blessings

'Good Samaritan': Baskets of Blessing founder and coordinator Tam Schurmann

It’s better to give than to receive, it’s said. One of Queenstown’s most prolific givers, however, is receiving special recognition for her philanthropy today. Baskets of Blessing coordinator Tam Schurmann discusses her charity with Philip Chandler

Imagine how you’d feel receiving a basket of goodies when you or your family were going through a rough patch.

That’s happened now to more than 1000 Queenstowners, thanks to the Baskets of Blessing programme founded by a local of only four years, Tam Schurmann.

Feelings of gratitude from many of these recipients have seen her become one of the most-nominated volunteers for today’s Real Journeys Thank You Cruise.

She and 89 other Good Samaritans around the lower South Island are receiving a free cruise on the historic Earnslaw steamship in the lead-up to the Queenstown Winter Festival fireworks display.

Schurmann explains she started Baskets of Blessing after receiving gifts from strangers at two low points in her life.

In her native South Africa, she became a full-time carer for her mum, who was struck down with a brain tumour.

“I was given a small basket, nothing of monetary value but such a lovely gift, by a little lady down the road – we had no idea who she was.”

After shifting 10 years ago to Auckland – along with hubby Eddie and elder daughter Jessie, and after giving birth to her other daughter Nina – their savings back home were wiped out by a financial scam.

Schurmann: “Again, an anonymous person arrived at my door with some baby goods.

“Both those events struck me and lifted me at two very difficult times of my life, and so I started putting together baskets for other people that I heard about.”

After a year or so of running Baskets just by herself, her family moved to Queenstown after her husband got a job at Lakes District Hospital.

She put a call out for volunteers and was “absolutely blown away” at the response from the local community.

Schurmann sends out nomination forms for people to nominate someone they think deserves a gift basket.

She then puts out a call for gifts or donations, and once a month asks for volunteers to pack the baskets.

Sometimes people bring donations. Sometimes they stay for six hours and help.

Children often come along, too.

Between 15 and 30 baskets are delivered each time.

Each basket contains 20 to 50 items such as magazines, home-made jams and chutneys, baking, fruit and veges, soaps, candles, notebooks, pens and DVDs.

“We do personalise them so we do ask for dietary requirements, what the person enjoys – if we know it’s gardening, we might organise a voucher for a garden centre.”

Meals and groceries are sometimes also delivered, on an ad hoc basis, along with baskets for hospital patients.

“I’ve been surprised at how much need there is and also what people go through behind closed doors.

“You drive around Queenstown and everyone looks happy, and then you deliver a basket and realise this is a family with an unwell baby or both parents have been struck down with illness.

“A lot of people are falling between the cracks in terms of getting financial help.”

Many Queenstowners are cut off from immediate family, Schurmann notes, citing foreigners working here, in particular, as being particulary vulnerable when a family tragedy strikes.

She believes Baskets of Blessing is building empathy in the community.

She’s amazed how often recipents turn around and become volunteers – “it’s that lovely circle”.

“We’re hoping later in the year to start regularly providing meals for families going through tough financial times or with a sick child.

“And we want to support people with long-term illnesses more, by getting gardening companies to help, house-cleaning and all that sort of stuff.”

Schurmann’s also had requests to roll out the programme through the country.

Baskets of Blessing has grown hugely in a short time, she says.

“The community’s the engine behind it – I’m just the coordinator.

“It’s been the biggest privilege to see the real heart behind Queenstown – people are so incredibly generous in this town.”

Real Journeys Thank You Cruise-goers

Name of Nominee Volunteering nominated for

Ngaire Hayes Altrusa Queenstown
Amy Wilson White Arrowtown Rugby Club
James Shaw (Jim) Arrowtown Volunteer Fire Brigade
Natalie Astin Aspiring Beginnings, Albert Town
Michelle Wallis Balfour Rugby Club
Tam Schurmann Baskets of Blessing, Queenstown
Haylee-Chanel Someon Bluff Community Volunteer
Tereza Jaresova Cardrona Adaptive Ski Programme
Ben Suncin Challenge Wanaka
Brendan Quill Charity Auctioneer
Richie Heap Charity Auctioneer
Kathy Buckham Citizens Advice Bureau
Helen Hay Citizens Advice Bureau
Betty Hannan Citizens Advice Bureau
Chris Ferguson Citizens Advice Bureau
Rachel Rose Citizens Advice Bureau
Lynette Carroll Citizens Advice Bureau
Dianna Hubbarb Citizens Advice Bureau
Vicki Tunnicliffe Citizens Advice Bureau
Jane Green Citizens Advice Bureau
Samara Fauer Citizens Advice Bureau
Barbara Syme Citizens Advice Bureau, Epilepsy Society, Can Shop
Carol Haig Clyde Play Centre
John Perkins Community Networks Wanaka
Liz English Community Networks Wanaka
Sophie Ward Community Networks Wanaka
BJ Smid Cromwell Men’s Basketball
Sharon Smid Cromwell Newcomers Group
Geoff Clear Cromwell Relay for Life
Francie Beggs Dunedin Forest & Bird Society
Jenna Sayer Frankton Golf Classic
Florence Micoud Friends of Wanaka Wastebusters, Plastic Bag Free Wanaka
Frances (Fran) McFarlane Friends of Wanaka Wastebusters, Plastic Bag Free Wanaka
Donna Hawkins Keil Furever Homes, Invercargill
Debbie Swain-Rewi Glenorchy Nurse Clinic
Joel Popplewell Happiness House, Queenstown
Colleen Carr Hawea Community Volunteer
Susan & Dean Allison Hawea Flat Sharing Shed
Brent McGearty Jellicoe Sea Scouts, Invercargill
Christine McIntosh KPCA Monday Work Party
Bill Godsall Multi-Sport Events Volunteer
Emma Wilson Music Instruction for Children
Anna Van Riel Plastic Bag Free Wanaka
Julia Milley Queenstown Cat Rescue
Ruth De Reus Queenstown Cat Rescue
Barbara Klee Queenstown Community Volunteer
Jan Maxwell Queenstown Community Volunteer
Kim Boyd Queenstown Hockey Club
Helen Munro Queenstown Hospice Shop
Pauline Shirley Queenstown Hospice Shop
Petra Hrbackova Queenstown Preschool Nursery
Andrew Barry Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade
Doug McKay Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade
Ryan Hill Queenstown Volunteer Fire Brigade
Tony O’Keefe Remarkables Adaptive Ski Programme
Melita Gizilis Showbiz Queenstown
Davey Hawken Snowdritfa, Wanaka
Wilma McDonald South Otago Forest & Bird
Darren Clay Southern Lakes Multi-Sport Club
Kay Searle St John Cromwell
Shona Blair St John Friends of Lakes District Hospital
Bev and Les Dawson St John Health Shuttle
Claudia Faichney St John Wakatipu
Wyndham Barkman St John Wanaka
Ryan Shaw Taieri College Rugby
Ian Turnbull and Jane Forsyth Te Kakano Aotearoa Native Plant Nursery
Jeanette Robertson The Entertainers
Chris Prudden Wakatipu Alpine Search & Rescue
Nanette Bedington Wakatipu Buddy Programme
Chris Blackford Wakatipu Community Volunteer
Simon Hayes Wakatipu Community Volunteer
Tanya Surrey Wakatipu District Youth Trust
Mitch Backhouse Wakatipu Junior Basketball
Simon Boland Wakatipu Junior Golf Club
Elena Fitgerald Wakatipu Junior Rugby Club
Damien O’Connell Wakatipu Junior Rugby Club
Andrew Jolly (Jock) Wakatipu Rowing Club
Ed Halson Wakatipu Search & Rescue, Lakes District Air Rescue Trust
Fae Robertson Wakatipu Victim Support
Susan & Keith Milne Wakatipu Walkers Group
Lesley Boyd Wanaka Buddy Programme
Catherine Emerson Wanaka Junior Football Club
Ian Bell Wanaka Junior Football Club
Logan Curtis Wanaka Junior Football Club
Richard Vostermanns Wanaka Junior Football Club
Emily Wilson Wanaka Kids Club
Rachel Allibone Wanaka Playgroup