Saturday, November 27

Auckland Food Bank works around the clock to meet demand

Every day, David Letele and the workers at his Brown Buttabean food bank go nuts. From morning until late at night, they are busy packing packages by the hundreds to meet unprecedented demand.

Volunteers with donation box with food products on gray background - food bank, food bank

Photo: 123rf

Letele’s central food bank in Manukau is one of many in Auckland facing a food crisis amid a pandemic in which vulnerable families have to wait up to a week for help.

They’ve been here before, Letele said, but this blockade is worse than the previous ones.

“This one definitely seems, you know, like it’s a lot more difficult for families. The people we deal with are already living, regardless of paycheck to paycheck, it’s day to day,” Letele said.

“Something like this throws a wrench in the works. People are tired.”

The Pacific community in Auckland is enduring the brunt of the current Delta variant Covid-19 outbreak. There are hundreds of cases here, as are many of the essential workers in the country.

More than 1,300 people have been forced into isolation and their work and income have suddenly stopped. Many are part of large families living in small households, who are now running out of food and other basic supplies.

Since New Zealand plunged into a level four lockdown a fortnight ago within hours, Letele said she has seen the need in the community increasing by the day. Last Friday, he posted a quick live video on Facebook. By night, that post had gotten more than 200 emails to Brown Buttabean asking for help.

“Today we are putting together around 400 packages. That will come out tomorrow and tomorrow we will do the same again,” he said.

“There is a delay, but we are doing everything we can to make sure everyone receives their food packages by the end of the week.”

It is a pattern that unfolds throughout the city. Pasifika Futures and St Vincent de Paul have seen an increase in demand since level four was announced.

In Papatoetoe, Rufo Pupuali’i works with the social agency Emerge Aotearoa, mainly with mental health support.

She also works long hours, she said, calling on the phone to try to connect people with support.

“They ask for food packages to be delivered or collected immediately, but due to demand they wait three days or even a week,” he said.

“These are basic needs.”

Pupuali’i said she was concerned that the number of people they are helping could be just the tip of the iceberg, as many people did not know where to go. Directing people to the Covid-19 website or running a TV ad was fine, he said, but many of the poorest didn’t have access to any of them.

Reverend Jonathan Lefali-Pouli’s phone has been ringing non-stop. He and several other local church leaders had formed a response group. Gather resources to help, spread the word.

“Most of them, especially the elderly, do not have access to Wi-Fi. Or even when they do, it is difficult for them to try to access the information. We are trying to help,” he said. said.

In a statement, Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni acknowledged there were supply problems, but said she was closely monitoring demand.

“Compared to last year, the current outbreak and the Delta variant is a game changer and has brought new challenges, including the large number of people who have become ‘close contacts’ and need to isolate themselves,” he said. .

“Whole communities that would normally come together and support each other are much less capable of doing so.”

Sepuloni said an additional $ 7 million had just been announced for food safety nets operating at alert level four, and “if more support is needed, we will certainly look into it.”

He urged people to contact the Ministry of Social Development in the first instance, adding that there were toll-free numbers and language support.

But Rufo Pupuali’i said that is easier said than done. There were language barriers, pride, whakama, and sometimes visa issues. Agencies had to be more proactive in finding those who needed help.

“They do not know where to go, the information must reach them using the means of the Pasifika language,” he said.

Malia Tuai, a community advocate for the Red Cross, was working with the Meals on Wheels program, as well as helping find families and translate information for them.

She said that she too was seeing demand like never before in the community. But I was also watching a community rally like no other.

“South Auckland comes together and helps each other and we’ve seen it. We’ve seen all of these providers working hard to make sure no family is left without,” he said.

“However, we know that there are some who have escaped the breaches.”

At the Brown Buttabean facility in Manukau, Dave Letele said he had also seen an avalanche of support. Locals and businesses looking to donate their time and lots of food.

They had just delivered 13 pallets of food, diapers, and baby formula. Others were donating minced meat, popsicles loaded with potatoes, and a dough of bananas.

“We are all together in South Auckland,” Letele said. “We will be here as long as we have to be.”

“There is no need to be ashamed, this is difficult for everyone. We are here to help.”

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