The yearly event that's 'bigger than Christmas' for children with disabilities

For three decades, a unique event in Dunedin has been giving children with disabilities an unforgettable experience that's "bigger than Christmas".

Held on the last Sunday of August every year, Special Rigs for Special Kids offers children with all kinds of abilities a chance to take part in a truck convey, getting up close and personal with a big rig for a one-of-a-kind tour around Dunedin. 

Special Rigs for Special Kids is part of this year's Z Energy (Z) Good in the Hood campaign. Good in the Hood supports local community groups by giving them a share of $1 million to do good in their neighbourhood.

Local Z retailer Jonathan Usher says "it's great to be able to support groups like Special Rigs for Special Kids and their mahi through Good in the Hood. It’s a huge operation so it's awesome to be supporting them for the second year in a row". 

The event was founded by Greg Inch 30 years ago after he heard an inspiring story from a friendof his working in the UK as a truck driver. At the back of the company where his friend worked was an orphanage and every weekend the children would jump the fence to help wash the trucks. To say thanks, the drivers would take the kids for a ride - something they absolutely loved.

"It just sort of resonated and I thought, why can't we do something like that here?" says Inch. 

As someone who owns and operates his own earthmoving business, Inch drives a truck himself and says he constantly witnesses the joy children get from seeing the large vehicles.

"When we drive past schools the kids all put their hand up for a toot and they all look up to the trucks, so we thought, well, let's give them an experience - let's go for a ride in a truck."  

When he organised the first event with a few friends, Inch thought he would be lucky if 30 or 40 trucks turned up. 

"We had 120," he says. "And we thought, oh wow, this really works. I thought if we get six or seven years out of this it would be cool. But here we are 30 years later." 

This year's event took place on August 27, with over 300 trucks taking part, catering for around 350 children and their families.

The trucks leave from Edgar Centre, driving around Dunedin and Taieri for around an hour before returning for food and entertainment. Police and ambulance officers help out on the day, and even those not riding in the trucks flock to the side of the street to catch a glimpse of the vehicles. 

"It's amazing the crowds we get," says Inch. "The public line the route that we do and it gives a lot of people pleasure."

A committee now helps Inch organise the event, and every year he is surprised by the impact the event has on the community. 

"Everyone just comes in pure passion and community spirit and gets involved," he says.

"One of the best parts for me is I do not know how many trucks or kids are going to turn up on the day. And when I arrive there and see the turnout of trucks and kids and parents and everyone, it's absolutely astounding." 

The trucks - "everything from small delivery trucks to big 60-tonne units" - come from all over the South Island, and some drivers have been coming for decades, says Inch.

"There is a following with the drivers and they're very proud of what they do. They're family people and they want to give back - this is their chance to put their foot forward and show they can do something for the community." 

And of course, no one gets more enjoyment out of the day than the children taking part.

"They're comfortable and included - and that's very unique and special for special needs children," says Inch. 

"It's bigger than Christmas for these kids."

This year, Z will surpass the $10 million milestone in donations to community groups and charities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand since 2011, largely enabled through its Good in the Hood programme.  

Customers who shop in-store at Z are given an orange token to pop in one of four boxes to vote for their favourite local group, like Special Rigs for Special Kids, with $4,000 per Z station split between the participating groups based on the number of votes they receive. To vote for Special Rigs for Special Kids make a purchase at Z Mosgiel before October 23 and use your orange token to cast your vote.  

Article created in partnership with Z Energy