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.”