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Media personality Toni Street draws inspiration from her own tragedies to help a young Kiwi in need.
Broadcaster Toni Street has had more than her fair share of life’s slingshots and arrows thrown her way.
While the hardships she faced are well known, behind the scenes the Coast FM breakfast host and high-profile TV presenter has a lesser-known story to tell.
For eight years, she and her husband Matt France have sponsored a child through Variety – the children‘s charity Kiwi Kid (KKS) sponsorship program, donating money each month to help pay for basic school fees like uniforms and school trips.
As Variety seeks sponsors for another 600 children, Street says, “It’s a very concrete thing to do and to us it just felt right.”
The many letters the couple have received from the boy they are sponsoring tell him they are making a difference in his life: “In each of them, the gratitude was incredible. I guess he saw us as being in his corner and I saw love pouring out of every letter.”
Street says she knows all too well how when tragedy strikes, life can change in no time. Growing up, she experienced an unbearable loss. Her twin brother Lance died of leukemia at 18 months and a little sister Tracey died just two days after being born without kidneys.
But the biggest blow came when Street was 18. His 14-year-old brother Stephen died after the quad he was riding rolled over.
“These things broke our world and changed our family,” she says. “Yet at the same time, my parents always told us how privileged we were, how lucky we were to have what we had. They always supported many causes, my mother regularly supporting collections children’s cancer fund.”
Street’s troubles didn’t end in childhood. As an adult, he was diagnosed with Churg-Strauss syndrome which causes inflammation of the blood vessels.
But putting all of that behind her — and embracing her parents’ positive outlook on life despite the circumstances — Street found joy in helping others.
“Yes, I may have been unlucky, but there’s always someone worse,” she says. “Look at what is happening abroad; the events in Ukraine really put things into perspective.
“Sponsoring a child through Variety made sense to Matt and I. We had always helped charities with one-time donations over the years, but I liked how Variety was very clear about how many children needed help and how many sponsors they needed.”
Street says she had heard of Variety but, after attending a reception hosted by the charity, she and France decided the time was right to sponsor a child.
“I loved the idea of helping people in our own backyard,” she says. “I know all of Variety’s sponsors are making a difference. There’s a lot of need in New Zealand and there are families among us who can’t afford to buy school uniforms for their children or pay laptops.”
Street hopes what she’s doing will be a good example for her own children – Juliette (9), Mackenzie (6) and Lachie (3). “I think the biggest achievement as a parent is raising compassionate, caring children. If you can do that, the job is done.”
Comments from caregivers and parents show how much Variety sponsors are appreciated. “She really appreciates that someone cares enough about her to sponsor her. It means a lot to her and makes her feel like she matters to someone else,” one said. .
Another parent said: “My daughter wants to say to her sponsor: ‘Thank you for your help. The camp, the correct uniforms, the nice blankets and the schoolbags, I appreciate them so much’. My son says: ‘My sponsor must have a very big heart, because I’ve had real birthdays and Christmases, mum – is my godfather Santa Claus?”
A third carer comments: “Thank you. (There was) a period when he didn’t want to go back to school. He was sad and annoyed but then with your help and making him able to go buy new shoes and sending all these beautiful letters, he is now really passionate, he loves sports and he keeps trying.
Variety CEO Susan Glasgow said the charity encourages kind New Zealanders who identify with and sympathize with the struggles faced by other Kiwis to consider becoming a sponsor.
“It may be because they have gone through hardship themselves and are in a position to give back now or they are passionate about social issues such as child poverty and inequality.
“Our sponsorship model is unique in that it connects a caring New Zealander with a child in need – and helps make a real difference in the child’s life.”
Through the KKS program, sponsors contribute $50 per month to help provide essentials such as bedding. A school uniform or shoes and access to important life opportunities such as school camp, sports fees/equipment, or swimming lessons.
Funding is tailored to the individual needs of the child. Thanks to Variety, sponsors can write to children, organize birthday and Christmas gifts while the association encourages children to respond (when their age, abilities and circumstances allow it).
To sponsor a child, go to: www.variety.org.nz/donate/sponsor-a-child/