Local hero makes it into top 10 finalists
Soteria Mareko was slightly concerned when a stranger approached her on a dark night outside a concert at Trusts Arena in 2012.
The Te Atatu resident was collecting for the Red Cross Christchurch earthquake appeal.
What the woman did next surprised the 23-year-old even more.
"She gave me a really big hug and burst into tears," she says.
"She'd lost her home in the Christchurch earthquake and couldn't believe we were still collecting money a year later."
It's moments like this Miss Mareko cherishes.
She's been a fulltime volunteer for the past five years since graduating from Kelston Girls' College.
Her efforts have been recognised by judges of the Kiwibank Local Heroes Awards who have judged her one of 10 semifinalists nationwide.
The final three will be decided on January 20 with New Zealand's top local hero crowned at the New Zealander of the Year gala awards next month.
Miss Mareko has volunteered as a collection co-ordinator for so many charity organisations she has lost count.
Among them are Breast Cancer New Zealand, The Heart Foundation, Arthritis New Zealand, CanTeen, and the Leukaemia and Blood Foundation.
This is as well as donating blood every three months and regularly gifting volunteer fire officers with chocolate bouquets and fruit baskets.
Miss Mareko says she simply just wants to help.
"The way I see it, I don't know anybody who has had cancer or died from an illness but if I did I'd like to know other people were doing their bit to help," she says.
"I just thought ‘why wait until somebody is sick to volunteer'?"
National awards manager Glyn Taylor says Miss Mareko is one of their youngest heroes.
"It's a huge achievement," he says.
"Local heroes is aimed at recognising and rewarding people that do great thing in community. One of the things that attracted the judges to what Soteria achieves is her young age."