Thursday, December 9

Food shortages for Pasifika communities during closure

Several organizations in New Zealand that support Pasifika families with basic needs during the Alert Level 4 lockdown are seeing increased requests for help.

A Pasifika-led social services organization, Pasifika Futures, said that since the shutdown began last month, they have delivered 12,242 support packages through their 28 partners in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Executive Director of Pasifika Futures and Pasifika Medical Association, Debbie Sorenson.

Photo: Supplied.

Support includes food packages, blankets, children’s activities, and mental health support.

Its CEO, Debbie Sorensen, said these packages are definitely more than what was delivered last year when the country was first put into alert level 4 lockdown.

“This year we have spent around $ 4.8 million in funds for Pasifika families around Aotearoa.

“To put this in context, last year throughout the lockdown, we only made a little over 10,000 family support packages, so right now we are running about a thousand packages a day, which is way more than what happened last year, “Sorensen said.

Most of the support packages have been distributed to Auckland families.

Pasifika Futures was incredibly busy in the first week of lockdown and said they had a lot of families waiting for support.

“During the weekend we worked very hard to eliminate that backlog, but before, families had to wait 24 to 36 hours for help,” Sorensen said.

“It is a very long time for a family to wait if they do not have the essentials and that causes anguish and anxiety.

“Very grateful to our teams across the country for delivering these families as quickly as possible.”

RNZ understands that the government has not called for a state of national emergency during alert level 4. Sorensen said that last year at level 4, the country had declared a national state of emergency, which meant that food support was available.

“This year is different and all organizations are under pressure to provide food packages and support to families.

“We see this in Auckland supermarkets where some have had to close early to give staff time to replenish stocks, even supply chains are under pressure,” he said.

Sorensen explained that because there are a large number of Pasifika people who test positive for Covid-19, which means that they must isolate themselves, that has led to a large demand for food support, since they cannot go to the supermarket.

“As of this week, we are supporting 1,354 Pasifika people who are in self-isolation and 152 people who are in quarantine,” he said.

One of the 28 partners that Pasifika Futures supports is the South Waikato Pacific Islands Community Services Trust.

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Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Executive Director Akarere Henry said they have assisted 120 Pasifika families in their rural community with food vouchers, firewood and basic necessities for babies and children.

“That is the nature of the environment we live in here in South Waikato, we rely heavily on being able to enforce various heating models and for us it is typically firewood.

“With the level 4 restrictions, the ability to go out into the jungle, being able to obtain wood is limited, along with finding reputable firewood merchants.

“We have seen high demand for diapers, baby products and formula during this lockdown.

“We have come across many families with children who were confident that their children would go to school and receive the free breakfast and lunch offered,” said Henry.

“When those two elements are removed from the day-to-day management and budget to now have everyone at home, it has added real pressure on those families.”

‘Lockdown is the opposite of what we [Pasifika] is it so’

The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul or St Vinnies said that three days after the alert level 4 closed this month, they delivered 720 food packages to needy families, the majority from the Pasifika community.

General Manager Delphina Soti said they increased to 1,116 food packages between August 23 and 28, 2021 and as of this week around 250 food packages have been distributed a day.

“At this time last year we were doing 350 to 400 food packages a week, so there has been a sharp increase since then.

“It has affected the Pasifika community the most now because they are at the center of the outbreak.

“The families of Pasifika are communal and the confinement is the opposite of what we are.

“Families survive being in the community, sharing, so when you go into a confinement, you can’t ask the aiga [family] on the road for help, he can’t go to the church bus, he can’t send his son to school for those free lunches to support him.

“Psychologically it has had a great impact on these families,” he said.

McAuley High School in Ōtāhuhu, South Auckland.

Photo: google maps

The Ministry of Social Development has asked St Vinnies to provide support to the families of McAuley High School, one of the schools that has had some students test positive for Covid-19.

“We have been making follow-up phone calls with the families to connect with them after the food was shipped.

“What we are hearing is fear: the fear of not being in control, the fear of not having enough and the fear of having to queue in those queues.

“Our Pasifika families have been encouraged to get tested, but in addition to testing for Covid-19, they are thinking about things like whether they will have enough gas to wait in line.

“Many families in Pasifika juggle the care of children and their elderly parents and find this time quite difficult because they are all confined to their homes,” he said.

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Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Soti said they are experiencing a delay with families waiting 24 to 48 hours for a food package.

She urges those outside the St Vinnies periphery in Onehunga to seek help from local food banks, to help ease pressure on volunteers and protect them from the spread of the virus.

“We prioritize the families we have connected with in the past because it is about building relationships.

“We are committed to serving McAuley students and their families during this time.

“Anyone in isolation who is on the central Auckland suburb of St Vinnies becomes a priority and their food packages can be distributed within 24 to 48 hours,” Soti said.

Demand for support is expected to increase in Auckland, with Alert Level 4 scheduled to last until September 14. The cabinet will consider next steps for the region on September 13.

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