Justine Knowles had been general manager of food rescue organisation Fair Food for just a few weeks when the country went into lockdown. With panic buying rife, food rescuing became much harder due to scarcity. The food rescue challenge had taken on new dimensions; the usual food sources had dried up, and their usual outlets had shut up shop.
During normal times Fair Food’s primary partners Countdown and Farro would supply food items that were unsaleable; for example, close to the use by date or damaged packaging such as a hole in a bag of rice.
Their rescued food regularly helped around 50 West Auckland organisations such as Vision West and the Salvation Army; organisations helping young mums, people with mental illness, foodbanks, social services and the like.
Within days they went from helping 50 agencies down to just 18. But those 18 were needing more food than the 50. Justine had to find new avenues to rescue food, so she started contacting the likes of Ingham Chicken, Turners & Growers, and fast food chains.
Restaurants and cafes had shut down, and tons of produce destined for them now needed to be reallocated. The Fair Food team went from rescuing box loads that would fill two vans per day, to rescuing pallet loads of food each day. They collected seven months’ worth of food in four weeks.
This would have been an impossible task for the small team, were it not for amazing people who came out of nowhere along the way. They provided the use of chillers, freezers, trucks and manpower to make it happen, all free of charge.
One of them was Jason from Eventbase in Avondale. For two weeks in a row he had driven past long queues of people on Portage Road, New Lynn. On the second week he got curious, so he stopped and found they were queuing for food parcels from Generation Ignite. He asked if he could help in some way. His company builds temporary structures, so he offered to erect one FOC to keep them dry. They declined but told him they knew of someone that did need urgent support; this organisation was Fair Food. Since then Jason and his team have gifted their trucks, manpower, forklift and warehouse for storage. Their trucks are now doing daily drop offs across West Auckland to all the foodbanks and weekly pickups from T&G and Punchbowl Packaging in Pukekohe for fresh produce.
Another key player was Patrick from Toby’s Seafoods. He offered to help as his partner works for Te Whanau O Waipareira Trust and saw the great things Fair Food were doing in the community to help feed thousands. He knew they needed to pick up and store this food, so offered his closed fish shops chillers and freezers. His staff were also keen to lend a hand rather than sitting at home, so became the muscle behind the logistics of the operation.
For now, the normal grants from the likes of Sky City and Lotteries have dried up, and Fair Food are now looking down new avenues to fund their costs. The Trusts bridged the gap with a generous donation of $100,000 (see article p18) which will help buy some time. Fair Food have set up a Givealittle page for the public to help as they can.
They are also looking for a new base/hub so they can free up the warehouses and storage facilities that have been loaned to them by the above generous businesses.
But the demand is still huge in the community. Food scarcity is estimated to be one in five in our community. That means that one in five people do not have enough to eat. When several foodbanks closed during lockdown the demand did not go away - Fair Food had to take up the slack.
“Our work is an integral part of keeping people fed in west Auckland”, says Justine. “But we slip through the cracks. The government is sending $20m to foodbanks, but we’re close to closing down as we are not eligible for the same funding.”
I Love Avondale’s Dayne Smith was out and about recently finding out how people had fared during the lockdown. He spoke with the Pearce family about their situation, and asked, “Has the lockdown had any significant impacts on your household?”
“Well we both got made redundant, so I guess that’s quite significant haha.
“We’re chefs in an industry that was already struggling before the virus hit, so sadly this will be the final nail in the coffin for many businesses out there, and less jobs to go around. It won’t be ‘business as usual’ anytime soon – unfortunately there will be a new normal that everyone has to adapt to, especially in hospitality.
“It was obviously gutting to both lose our jobs like that and everything is very unknown right now, but we just count ourselves lucky as there are so many families out there who are in far more dire situations. We’ve tried to turn the experience into a positive one – quality time with our daughter which would not usually be the case with the hours we worked.
“Last year wasn’t exactly great for us either [with the closure of their Avondale cafe, Te Whau Eatery] and we’d been all ‘2020 is going to be our year’ so I guess it must be 2021 now right?!”
Glen Avon Community Hub
One of the many groups helping community during this time is the Glenavon Hub. The Hub is a focus for the surrounding community, welcoming all and connecting local people together through events and activities that foster community spirit, friendship, fun, laughter, learning and growth.
I want to acknowledge the committee and hub coordinator Eva Wongchiu who worked tirelessly to support others, engage volunteers and who organises much of the work done at the Hub. The Glenavon Community Board and Hub continued to operate from behind the scenes to support the community, preparing many boxes of food supplies for families in need.
Generation Ignite Food Bank
Much good work is being done in the community by the Generation Ignite team. The group is about empowering young people in the community though various response services, programmes, and events. The team strive to inspire change, ignite hope, and champion youth in the area.
During the recent crisis the team were outstanding, rising to a vastly increased need. The food bank initiative has grown immensely and is a great asset to the community. My thanks to Jo Noema and Generation Ignite.
Whau Youth Board
It was a pleasure to hear from the Whau Youth Board during Level 2. The youth board provided feedback for the upcoming budget on what they believe can contribute to a better Whau for the youth. Thank you to the fabulous team of capable youth for your support.
Local churches and faith groups
I want to acknowledge all our local churches and their members who are helping others through this difficult time. I have been seen many local churches offering food packages, connecting with community and supporting those in need. My thanks to you all.
We really are stronger when we’re together, and it’s together that we can rebuild.
Please do contact me if you have any questions.
As an essential service, Lynfield Dental Centre stayed open to provide emergency care during Alert Level 4. They treated a number of people from the local community with dental pain over the five weeks.
When not at work, they got a lot of painting done inside their home and organised their garage after seven years of accumulated chaos. Like many of us, they relieved the stress and boredom of lockdown with a little too much food, while becoming amateur epidemiologists by watching YouTube videos of professional ones.
Early in January, Raewyn dug into COVID 19 when it was first reported. She was suspicious this wasn’t as harmless as was being portrayed, so urged John to purchase PPE before it sold out. John counts himself lucky he had such good advice; many other dental practices were forced to close due to a lack of supply.
The lockdown has made them realise they took the benefits of living in a Western democracy for granted. “Now we have all experienced how distressing life can be when your government takes your familiar freedoms away”.
Providing emergency dental care, when most dental practices were closed, has made John and Raewyn more aware of the vital health service dentists provide. “Some people were suffering very badly with dental pain and struggled to find help” says John. “Given the critical need for ongoing community dental care, regardless of arbitrary stay at home orders; I’m disappointed government support for the dental profession was completely withheld during lockdown. For at least one New Zealander, untreated dental infection during this time nearly cost their life. This should not have been allowed to happen”.
Like most small businesses, John and Raewyn suffered a loss of income because of lockdown. However, they were more concerned about the interruption of important dental services to their community. Now, thankfully, it’s back to practising as usual!
Apart from working through a backlog of WOFs, it’s back to business as usual for Peter.
During the higher alert levels, he did some repairs for essential workers in the health sector but apart from that it was a long break at home. The government wage subsidy which offset the lack of revenue saw the business come through ok, and also minimised the stress of the situation.
Like many small business owners who usually never get a chance to switch off, it was a unique experience for Peter. He realised that it was ok to stop and just do nothing for a while. Then it was doing those jobs that he usually never has time for like spending three days cleaning the ceilings. At least his wife Deran got some jobs crossed off the list!
Now work has resumed there are some changes at the workshop. He has rebranded to include the name Hillsborough instead of Waikowhai. People were geographically challenged with the old name. Now Peter is struggling to remember to use the new name when he answers the phone! Another change is that his son Jordan has started part-time with him and is keen to do more hours of hands on, practical work.
Peter is confident about the future. When asked if electric vehicles would need less repairs and undermine mechanical workshop businesses he says if a vehicle has wheels on it, it will always need fixing!