A legacy of cooking and cash

THE kitchen of Betty Mayers smells sweet. Fragrant with jam drops, choc chip cookies, fruit cake, marshmallow slice, banana loaf, chocolate caramel slice and anzac biscuits.

For 20 years the kitchen in her humble home in Hibiscus Close in Chatham has been a hub of baking sweet treats that take flight with the men and women of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

The crews fly to the Manning Valley to leave with precious cargo - a man, woman or child who is in desperate need of emergency medical care and almost always they will also take flight with containers of Betty's baking, a thermos for tea or coffee and a little butter and cream.

It's been that way for almost 20 years with the catalyst for Betty's kindness being a terrible moment when she learnt her 11-month-old granddaughter Kiaharine needed to be flown to John Hunter Hospital to try to stop seizures that wreaked havoc with her little body for more than an hour at a time.

It was a defining moment in Betty's life. Kiaharine needed help, and the doctor told their family that she had to be flown to John Hunter Hospital and the flight would cost $14,000.

"I said to my daughter, Karen we will just find the money somehow because she has to go. We will work that out later, not now, right now we will get her to Newcastle," Betty said.

"So they came and the pilots, Ian Osbourne and Peter Cummings, they were fantastic. They said, look it's going to be fine, it's not going to cost you anything. Just ring the hospital in the morning. It doesn't cost you anything to use this helicopter, this helicopter is free, it's all for the people.

"I was so surprised and so relieved that the next day I rang Barry Walton in Newcastle and asked, what can I do to help?"

Baking was not Barry's response to Betty's offer to help - he asked her to start a support group. That was 1994 and in 2014 Betty is reflecting on her legacy of support as she looks to retire from her role as "really doing a little of everything as I'm the treasurer, I'm the co-coordinator, I'm the president, I've just been doing this for such a long time."

Baking is a kindness that she delivers to care for the individuals, but it is the fundraising that she has delivered to the organisation over two decades that reveals her commitment to community.

It began in 1995 with the inaugural Angel II Princess Quest. It was an idea that evolved to include 24 entrants and raised $32,000 for the service.

Entrants were aged from two years up to 16 years and according to Betty, no-one predicted the level of community support or the amount of money that would be raised by the event.

"Westpac could not get over how much we raised. It was phenomenal and this was my high for the Princess Quest. So we decided to continue on and over the years the event and community support for our fundraising has just dwindled," Betty said.

The halcyon days are over and Betty says she "is not happy that we can't seem to raise money anymore."

"So many people now say that there is not enough money in town. Too many people say 'we just don't have the money' when we are selling raffle tickets.

"We have one lovely lady who gives us 50 cents and she will put that in our little donation tin and say 'sorry, but that is all I can afford'.

"I am frustrated and that is part of the reason why I have said, 'enough is enough' as I feel I am letting down the helicopter service with our poor fundraising."

"It's heartbreaking to think that I did so well in the first 10 years and then during the next 10 years there has been a decline in everything."

Kiaharine has been at her grandmother's side many times during many fundraising events and says "it's important to support this service because the helicopter helps people."

She would like to continue helping the service but echoes Betty's comments that "new volunteers, young blood with fresh ideas are needed" for the future of the support group.

Betty is looking to June to end her two decades of service. In the last two months the helicopter and their hungry crew have flown to the Manning Valley 36 times, and so now she sells raffle tickets and waits for a call that causes her to once again begin baking. 

Try one of Betty's yummy recipes here

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