In February the Illawarra Community Foundation came to the aid of Elliana Smith and her family.
The two-year-old has spent 14 weeks of her short life in hospital but on Wednesday she was having the time of her young life pointing out planes and trucks to her mum, Maddison Baines, at the launch of the 2019 i98fm Illawarra Convoy.
"This is our first year fully involved in Convoy," Ms Baines said.
"The Illawarra Community Foundation helps us financially with food and fuel vouchers to help us through Elliana's treatment.
"Unfortunately Elliana has quite a few medical conditions. She was diagnosed when she was only five days old.
"Convoy helps my family where it is needed. Whether it is medical bills for the pharmacy. Whether it is food or whether it is fuel to get us to the hospital or accommodation when Elliana is in hospital..They are all-rounders with the help they provide".
Ms Baines said hopefully Elliana will be well enough to attend her first Convoy.
"We are excited. We are hoping to be on the family bus," she said.
Elliana and her family enjoyed being at the launch at the Historial Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) and meeting Convoy founder Marty Haynes at Shellharbour Airport on Wednesday.
They were joined by the other Convoy ambassadors and i98fm breakfast co-hosts Christie Hayes and Ryan Cram along with many members from the truck and motorbike community and other recipients of funding provided by the Illawarra Community Foundation.
And they heard how the family fun day planned for November 17 will be the second time the convoy of trucks and bikes completes its journey at the airport. For the first 13 years it finished with a massive community celebration at the Croome Rd Sporting Complex. But work on the Albion Park Bypass forced it to move to another site where the event was an overwhelming success. Haynes said thousands of people enjoyed the benefits of easy access to the event via public transport and the space the airport provided.
While 2018 saw performances from Sheppard, Choirboys and The Incidentals following the arrival of the motorbikes and trucks Haynes said the lineup for 2019 was equally impressive with The Veronicas, Hoodoo Gurus, award winning country artist Jayne Denham and local indie surf rockers Swells.
There will also be freestyle motocross displays, helicopter joy flights, kids rides, static displays, vintage trucks and more than 90 market and trade stalls.
Shellharbour City Council has approved Convoy's development application for the use of the airport for the next four years.
In 2018 the event raised a record total of$2 million dollars for the Illawarra Community Foundation. And to date $13.45million dollars has been raised.
Haynes is confident a new record will be set on Sunday, November 17 after the i98FM Illawarra Convoy departs under police escort from Illawarra Coal's West Cliff Colliery on Appin Rd at about 8am. It will then proceed down Mount Ousley through Warrawong and past Stockland Shellharbour, through Albion Park Rail, then into the Shellharbour Airport.
"It is shaping up really well this year," he said.
"And we are seeing people thinking out of the box. We had a pigeon race recently for Convoy that raised $7,000. We have a fight night coming up on the 19th of October at the WIN Entertainment Centre. So people are not just thinking about trucks and bikes now. It has become about raising money in different ways for the Illawarra Community Foundation to spend within our region".
Haynes said he always hoped each year will be the biggest one ever and raise even more to help local families but that was only made possible by the amazing support of the Illawarra community.
"Those families we help love it. Those kids who are sick always say "are these people here for me". And we are. We tell them "we are here for you".
And that is why Convoy makes such a big difference.
It is not just the financial support.
It is sick children knowing there is a whole community behind them.
"We have been able to help 140 families so far who are in need. And there are probably a lot more out there we can help. That is what the foundation is about," Haynes said.
Registrations for trucks and bikes to take part in the 2019 Illawarra Convoy are $30 and includes a complimentary Convoy t-shirt. They can be submitted at the Illawarra Convoy wesbite or at the Convoy office on the corner of Princes Highway and Airport Road Albion Park Rail.
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