Living into the reality of food insecurity beyond the Covid-19 has proved stressful for countless families in Aotearoa. It has negatively impacted wellbeing in a number of areas including mental and physical health, relationships, workforce opportunities and educational achievement. Over the past few months, the Auckland Vinnies operations have been inundated with requests for food support. This need was already growing exponentially prior to the lockdown as the number of New Zealander’s experiencing food insecurity has increased.
The effects of Covid-19 has amplified existing challenges – particularly those pertaining availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited the ability to acquire personally acceptable foods that meet cultural needs in a socially acceptable way. In seeking to meet these varying needs, the team have worked tirelessly alongside a dedicated team of volunteers, supply partners, health professionals, budgeters, social workers and administrators. Through many conversations and check-ins, the insights gained have reaffirmed that food insecurity emerges from a complex range of causes including low wages and housing costs.
In the wake of level four on the pandemic scale, the unfolding situation has highlighted the challenges to addressing food security. Over the space of a few days, many regional support networks, local redistribution projects and community hubs became inaccessible. Those without food and the means to provide it found themselves in disarray as the lockdown required families to remain indoors. A number of support providers were ill-equipped to sustain a similar, if not more enhanced degree of care during the lockdown. It was evident that severe food insecurity impacted thousands of families across Auckland alone, with many more requiring ongoing support as we continue to navigate level one. The degree to which these numbers reduce, and more importantly, the degree to which families are supported is unlikely to be influenced without substantial intervention.
As schools, local foodbanks and community spaces reopened in level two, this allowed for regions to reassess needs and redirect resources. A space was created for connections to be nurtured and for stories to be shared. The growing community awareness spurred many into action. Of note were local schools that took the lead in supporting families in need. Principal Michele Mill of St Joseph’s School in Otahuhu and Fr Martin Wu of St Joseph’s Parish were two such people who have been working diligently to ensure those in their care do not go without.
Additionally, students from McAuley High School, St Joseph’s Otahuhu school and Parish volunteers mobilised to bottle and prepare thousands of bottles of handsoap for redistribution to families. During the lockdown, St Peters College donated several pallets of hampers and food that were meant for their Annual Fair which was cancelled in the wake of the pandemic. These were redistributed to families and the elderly who sought assistance from Vinnies. Students from St Peter’s, as well as Auckland Normal Intermediate School Mt Eden also ran a school wide food drive at level one, sourcing several boxes of canned goods to donate to the Vinnies Foodbank. A group of Vinnies from St Cuthbert’s College and Sancta Maria College have faithfully dedicated time after school to help sort and stock donations, ready for the following day. Each of these collectives took the time to reflect upon food insecurity, as well as their call to grow awareness and consider more importantly the relationships they hold with the wider community.
The Auckland operations have been fortunate to have a strong volunteer base who have shown up in the early waking hours of the day to ensure families are fed. The Ignite whānau, various youth groups and affiliated partners bulk pack hundreds of parcels each day to cover demand. The many hands and moments of laughter made for light work as these young men and women bonded through service. A significant number of these individuals worked throughout the lockdown as packers, stackers and drivers for the food parcels. Their hard work did not go unnoticed, and the impact it has had on families across Auckland was felt across the communities in which they served. Throughout the lockdown, numerous families coordinated foodbank satellite services across Auckland. That is, provided localised support to those in need so as to ease the logistical processes of the central hub. These families have been pivotal in creating a sense of whanaungatanga (relationship building) through face to face interactions. Relationships are core to the Vinnies service ethos, as this is what upholds the dignity of those whom they serve through meaningful, sustained connections.
A core team of individuals came together without knowing one another during the lockdown, in the hopes of working the phone lines so that families are heard, and their needs are met. The collective saw a need that was not being met, and thanks to their hardwork the Vinnies team were able to provide a stronger, more informed service to families. In particular, they checked in on isolated elderly whānau who requested regular phone calls. These services were much needed, particularly as a way to navigate restrictions on physical distancing without compromising the relational aspect of service provision.
Door to door delivery has also been supported, including those in need within local caravan parks. The team have been fortunate to work alongside dedicated students such as those from Liston College who ensure distribution is streamlined. The Vinnies team have been proactive in organising themselves – from assessing needs, to donations, and packing and distributing food parcels that provide nutritional sustenance.
There have been many moments of joy, laughter as well as moments that have brought tears and wonder. While the journey ahead is uncertain, the Vinnies team are mindful that there lies an opportunity to deeply reflect and bring about a positive contribution to the lives of those whom they serve. Through collaboration and journeying alongside one another, the Vinnies team therefore seeks to acknowledge and address food insecurity as experienced by people; whilst acknowledging and addressing that food insecurity is a facet of lived experience driven by systems.