Heilala Vanilla surpasses fundraising goal for Tongan relief

Following the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga on 15 January, premium vanilla company Heilala Vanilla set up a donation page to assist with the relief efforts. The company set an initial goal of $100,000 and following an overwhelming response, this total has been exceeded, with more than $140,000 being donated so far.

Every cent of the funds donated goes directly to response efforts with the company covering all administrative and associated costs required for the foundation to carry out its work.

“This has far exceeded our expectations as it was just a dream a week ago. It shows the power of community and the importance of coming together to help us do even more for Tonga than we ever anticipated,” says Heilala CEO Jennifer Boggiss.

Heilala’s community, both locally and globally, has been incredibly generous in its support of the relief fund, with local Tauranga company Comvita making a significant donation toward the relief efforts. Mount Maunganui Sea People Ice Cream will be donating all profits made from its vanilla ice cream Sammies to the Tonga Tsunami relief fund until the end of the month. While prominent San Francisco baker (and Heilala customer) Butter& has added a donation feature at checkout to support the relief fund.

Since news of the devastation, the Heilala team has been in contact with MORDI (the company’s on the ground partner in Tonga) and have been updated on the situation for rural communities, particularly in Tongatapu, Haa’api and ‘Eua where crops have been badly affected as a result of the eruption and subsequent tsunami. This will cause a huge food shortage both in the short and medium-term, impacting all crops including bananas, cassava, yams, taro, pineapple, watermelon and kava.

Heilala is yet to have direct communication with its vanilla farmers on ‘Eua but the team is hoping the hardy, waxy nature of the vanilla plant will protect it from the extensive damage impacting other crops.

Heilala is working with MORDI to formulate a plan for the funds to ensure immediate needs are met, with food being the most pressing requirement. Eleven pallets of food are being shipped this week and these shipments will continue until the immediate food shortage is alleviated.

The other urgent need is for depth sounders and VHF radio units so the essential items can be safely delivered via boat to the rural communities by MORDI. With the dramatic change to the coastlines and the washing away of wharves, this equipment will help facilitate a safe delivery to the communities in need. This much-needed equipment will be sent on an Orion flight this Thursday.

Once the immediate needs are met, Heilala’s medium-term focus will shift to establishing seedling nurseries for communities. The Heilala team implemented a similar approach following Cyclone Harold in 2020. This will involve providing and planting seeds, building materials and resourcing for the nurseries over multiple locations, to ensure vegetable plants get to the rural communities impacted.

In the main city of Nuku’alofa there is ash in every crevasse and masks are required when outside. A small rain shower turned the ash into cement causing many spouting’s to fall off and for the ash to form even harder coatings on buildings. The impact of this disaster will be felt for years to come.

Heilala Vanilla’s Tonga Tsunami Relief Fund is still open for donations. To donate, visit here.

For more information on Heilala Vanilla and its charitable foundation, visit their website.

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