Gisborne family who lost everything in Cyclone Gabrielle gifted a car by local panel beaters

Six months on from the devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle, a local Gisborne family has had their spirits lifted, thanks to the generosity of Phil and Maria Wilkens – owners of the local panel beaters, DJ Mac Panel & Paint.

The idea to recondition and donate a vehicle to a family in need came to Phil and Maria as they talked about how they could help their community devastated by the destruction caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Putting their organisational and repair skills to good use, the couple approached repair partner AA Insurance who donated a written off vehicle, which the panel beaters fully reconditioned and restored. Maria and Phil worked with local charity, The Sunrise Foundation, to design a nomination process for deserving families to share their stories and to assist in selecting the winners, and the “Wheels of Hope” concept was born.

Maria says, “After purchasing our business last year and moving to Gisborne, seeing the devastation in our new community was heartbreaking. We wanted to use our skills and networks to give back to a local family and we were delighted by the generosity of AA Insurance and the Sunrise Foundation who helped us bring Wheels of Hope to life.”

Local family Steffanie and Shane Miller were selected to receive the vehicle from more than a dozen worthy nominations.

The Millers and their two young daughters lost all their possessions in Cyclone Gabrielle when their house was flooded shoulder deep, pink stickered and had no insurance cover. After the recent heavy rain, an 80-year-old tree subsequently fell over and landed on their car – their last remaining possession.

Elated by the news of their win, Steffanie says, “The aftermath of the Cyclone has been a really tough period for the whole of Tairāwhiti Gisborne, and we are blown away by the generosity of DJ Mac Panel & Paint, AA Insurance and all the sponsors involved. A new car is going to make a huge difference to our lives.”

AA Insurance Head of Motor Claims, Beau Paparoa, says, “As one of our key suppliers in Gisborne, we were thrilled to be able to support DJ Mac Panel & Paint and this fantastic initiative by sourcing the vehicle with our partners Turners. We have also offered the Miller family a 12-month comprehensive motor insurance policy to get them back on their feet and keep their new vehicle safe.”

“Being able to support a local family through Wheels of Hope has been so rewarding. Our hope is that it inspires others to consider how they can rally around their community in times of hardship,” concludes Maria.

About AA Insurance

AA Insurance is an independently operated, New Zealand-based joint venture between the New Zealand Automobile Association (NZAA) and Vero Insurance New Zealand Limited (VINZL). Since 1994 we have demonstrated trusted expertise in home, contents and car insurance in New Zealand, and in 2018 introduced commercial small business insurance. We underwrite our own policies and sell direct to New Zealanders. Our 930+ staff look after over 480,000 customers with 970,000 policies.

We proudly partner with Variety NZ and Eden Park and have been consistently recognised by: Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Brands (since 2011) and Quality Service Awards for Car, and Home and Contents Insurance (since 2015), Kantar Customer Leadership Index (since 2019), Canstar Blue Most Satisfied Customers (2011-2018), and the Colmar Brunton Corporate Reputation Index (since 2015) that recognises New Zealand’s most successful companies. AA Insurance was also named Consumer NZ People’s Choice award winner for car, home and contents (2019 and 2020).

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