The long distance didn't stop our New York-based reader Diane Villavieja from contributing to the local bushfire appeal. But even she didn't expect the viral success of the 'Koalas of NYC' fundraising campaign. Here's her story.

On Friday, January 10, Diane Villavieja, an Australian-Filipina working in an ad agency in New York set her alarm to go off just before the crack of dawn. 

It was an unusual time for her to get up but this was no ordinary day.

  Donning an outfit to brave the minus-10 degree chilly temperatures outside, she travelled by foot and van to various locations around the city. In her hand was a figure more familiar in front of the Sydney Opera House than New York's Times Square - the iconic Australian Koala.

  Called the 'Koalas of NYC' campaign, the fundraiser was the brainchild of Diane and her fellow workmates at Cummins&Partners (where over 50% of staff are Australian). Each stuffed animal had a tag with details on how to donate to their Gofundme page with proceeds to go towards Australian wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.

  The idea was to place 100 furry koalas in locations around the city so that when early morning shift workers ventured out of the subways, they were greeted by a koala among the city's trees, street signs and lamp poles.

  The sight of the koala got too much for one passerby who cried when she read the tag and thanked Diane and her workmates for spearheading the appeal to save Australian wildlife affected by the bushfires. 

  "She shook our hands and thanked us ... she had no idea that a billion animals have been affected including those that already face extinction," said Diane.

  The appeal resonated with many others and before they knew it, 'Koalas of NYC' surpassed its initial US$10,000 goal and they decided to change it to US$15,000. They smashed that goal again, receiving US$16k to date, and are now aiming to donate US$20,000. 

  In less than a month, the @koalasofnyc has gone viral on social media, drawing more than 13,500 followers on Instagram, thanks to the ad agency's campaign with captivating images by well-known photographer Jeremy Cohen (@jermcohen).

  Not too long after, they launched the 'Koalas of London' campaign, which saw 30 plush koalas in iconic locations including Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and the Buckingham Palace.

  The media also lent their support. "We've been supported by the press with spreading our campaign, by NY Post, HeraldSun, Timeout Magazine, Pix11 News, to name a few," said Diane.

Diane with Betty Nguyen and Dan Marino on the Morning News

  Asked why the campaign has such mass appeal, Diane said it's because it offers solutions for those who feel helpless about the plight of animals affected by the bushfires. 

Passersby check out how to donate.

  "In these difficult times, it provides a moment of support, gives hope and lifts people’s spirits," she said.

  "We've received so many messages from Australians thanking us for the support and for recognising their pain that they are going through." 

Australian Filipina readers can make a small donation via the 'Koalas of NYC' gofundme page or spread awareness on Instagram with a hashtagged post #koalasofnyc or #koalasoflondon. You can also follow @koalasofnyc and share their snaps.

Photo courtesy of @koalasofnyc, Jeremy Cohen (@jermcohen)

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