They Are The Ones

By Jenny Hurst

Onesies are more of a pajama gag gift than a socially accepted piece of daywear. And yet, the novelty of adults and children alike wearing onesies in public while going about their everyday lives is the premise of an extremely successful 111 fundraising campaign in Wellington, New Zealand. The event is a play on the word “one” (since the emergency number in New Zealand is 111), and a reflection of the general laid back, whimsical Kiwi sense of humor. To grab attention from casual passersby, volunteers dress in their favorite onesies and canvas the city taking collections inside grocery stores, outside malls and along the streets. If you’re lucky enough to be walking through Wellington on Onesie Day (held annually in September), keep your eyes peeled for unusual unicorns, polka dots, bunnies, and even crocodiles holding tins for change throughout the city. 

To show solidarity, many kids and adults throughout the region attend school or work dressed in their favorite onesies as well.  Kate Jennings, Executive Director of Wellington Free Ambulance’s (WFA) Clinical Communications Centre, said, “It’s so great seeing our community get so involved in Onesie Day! From train rides to supermarket trips it’s a lot of fun seeing everyone dress up and support our service.”

WFA even invites teachers to download fun, educational activities about emergency response from their website to use on Onesie Day in their classrooms. This capitalizes on the sensationalism of seeing strangers walking around in silly pajamas and develops the event from simple fundraising into a community conversation about how to call 111, what to expect, and why the service is important.

The city’s need for fundraising stems from the fact that WFA is a nonprofit organization. While it receives approximately 75% of its funding from the New Zealand government, WFA needs to raise $5-6 million annually to fill the gap. Most agencies would simply charge their patients to cover this cost. But not Wellington Free. Founded in 1927 by philanthropist and mayor Sir Charles Norwood, the goal of the organization has always been to support the entire community, especially those with limited finances and access to healthcare. Thus, for almost 100 years, WFA has offered one of the only completely free ambulance care services in the world.

The Wellington populous is well aware of this legacy and are proud of their ambulance system’s unique status in the world. It’s no surprise, then, that many are eager to give back to WFA when it has given them so much. Apart from the ridiculous fun of seeing professionals in (what would normally be) children’s pajamas, Onesie Day is a chance for the community to come together and recognize those who work in public safety. It’s also an opportunity for past patients to remember services rendered by WFA and pay it forward to the next person who finds themselves in need of emergency care. Plus, it’s a blast! 

This year, Onesie Day will be held on September 4th. In light of COVID-19, the event will look a little bit different with the fundraising focused online rather than through physical collection tins. This doesn’t need to dim the silliness though! Participants are still encouraged to wear their onesies at home, on their trips to the store, while walking their dogs, and during any other socially distanced activities. Plus, with this whole event happening virtually, (and much of the world staying in their pajamas all day while they work from home anyway!) it’s a perfect excuse for the rest of us to dig out our own onesies, donate a dollar or two, and get in on the fun.

For more information about Onesie Day and the educational resources that Wellington Free Ambulance provides to the public visit https://www.onesieday.co.nz/ 

Combining her passion for travel and international development, Jenny has worked at nonprofits around the world. From participating in peace-building efforts in Northern Uganda to working toward the nonproliferation of chemical weapons in The Hague and closing student achievement gaps in the Bronx, Jenny loves learning about and communicating across cultures. Her current role is Community Outreach Coordinator at the IAED™.

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