Birthday gifts and messages flood in from around the world for bullied girl
UPDATE: Since this story was published accusations have emerged about the fundraising effort being a scam.
A bullied schoolgirl is about to find out she has a lot more friends than she thought.
With not one kid in her class keen to come to her 10th birthday party, Whanganui girl Gabi Barnett is expecting Sunday's celebration to be a birthday dinner of macaroni and cheese with bacon.
But family friend Renee Langley had other plans, and they've grown bigger than she could have dreamed.
A Facebook group, mentioning Gabi was doing it tough, living with epilepsy and being teased at school was created and requested birthday wishes and video messages.
More than 3600 people from around the world have joined the page, with gifts being sent from as far away as Taiwan, the United States and the United Kingdom.
And support from Whanganui businesses had led to a giant surprise birthday party being organised for Sunday.
Langley said she was blown away by the generosity of others.
"It's just touching – heart-warming."
Langley has been on the receiving end of community generosity before, when she sought work to raise enough money for her own son's third birthday party. Donations flooded in.
Mum Toni Barnett has been awestruck by the number of people who have been touched by Gabi's circumstances.
She said the bullying began about two years ago.
It seemed to be tailing off, but in the summer holidays Gabi had a seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy, which led to more teasing.
When Gabi invited girls from her class to her birthday party, they told her "I don't want to come to a retard's birthday".
"They're mean, it makes me sad," Gabi said.
"I don't want to turn 10 this year because there's nobody to play with."
Children had even told Gabi she should kill herself.
Barnett said the bullying has taken a noticeable toll.
"She used to be a happy-go-lucky kid, now she gets frustrated very easily and has zero self-esteem."
Gabi is afraid about having a seizure at school and nobody helping her. She wants other children to know more about epilepsy and not to be suspicious of it.
But first it's time to party, and Barnett has spent much of the week trying to keep Gabi from noticing all the presents being delivered.
"On Monday, at twenty past seven in the morning, I had a knock at the door and the whole door step was covered in parcels," she said.
"I was just waking up, and was just blown away."
Video messages included a dog howling a song for her, a two-year-old saying happy birthday, and a message from an elderly lady who said she had also been a victim of bullying.
"It's making it real, that people care about what she's gone through," Barnett said.
"It's a message that's bringing 3000 other people together on an issue that's so prevalent and needs to be talked about."
Barnett hoped to pass some of that love on to other children who have had a hard time, issuing a special invitation to anyone who empathised with her daughter's struggles.
"People who live in Whanganui that have a connection with what Gabi's been through, if they have a disability or they've been bullied, can come and celebrate with her."
Barnett also hoped to work with Gabi's school on some positive solutions, including inviting the Epilepsy Association to the school for a talk to help de-stigmatise it.
She encouraged people to visit the page Gabi's Surprise 10th birthday, to read people's messages about bullying, and to find details of the party.