Across Auckland, numerous student groups, volunteer collectives and staff members have been abuzz with activity. July saw the return of students to secondary schools, which necessitated a space to reconnect and map out service projects for the remainder of the year. Mindful that these students have had minimal interaction with one another since before lockdown, this presented a perfect opportunity to recognise and nurture the relationships that have already been formed.
Other schools such as Stanhope School continued to see a need in their community, and decided to do their part in supporting those in need. With the support of family and staff, the students hosted a Pyjama mufti day to raise money for families who are struggling to put food on the table.
The fortnightly ministry at Mt Eden Corrections facility resumed at the beginning of July, ushering in a renewed sense of connection for those who are incarcerated. Every two weeks, a dedicated group of volunteers lead karakia (prayers) and kōrero (conversations) that are both spirit-led and thought provoking. The reality of Covid-19 meant that many inmates were further disconnected from much needed relationships as families were not. permitted to visit those in prison. This was an added layer of isolation that proved difficult for all. Those who volunteer at the corrections facility recognise this and have had many insightful conversations with those residing inside.
As the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 unfold, we know that the most vulnerable in our communities are most affected. For people suffering illness, frailness or other forms of social isolation in particular, such groups may also experience food insecurity regardless of their financial means, due to an inability to either purchase or prepare adequate food as a result of their condition. This has affected the ability of families to acquire and consume a nutritious diet, including the ability to buy and transport food, home storage, preparation and cooking facilities, knowledge and skills to make appropriate choices; and the time as well as mobility to shop for and prepare food.
In support thousands of families throughout the last month, we know that this issue is also systemic, and speaks to broader issues such as low wages, precarious working environments as well as the supply of food within a community which influences the food security of individuals and households alike. In either instance, the fact remains that thousands of families across New Zealand are food insecure with extreme hunger—where meals are often missed or inadequate. We have been fortunate to have a number of youth groups, families and individuals come through to the Vinnies foodback to offer support. It has been insightful to witness the relentless source of love and compassion that these men and women have for the welfare of those in need. If not for their enthusiasm and much needed assistance, the Society of St Vincent de Paul would not have been able to meet the high demand for foodparcel assistance throughout July.
The nutritional aspect of food security is often overlooked in favour of simply ensuring people are eating regular meals. The Society of St Vincent de Paul have been fortunate to be affliated with other organisations such as KiwiHarvest who ensure that there is a steady source of fresh fruit and veges for families in need. These go a long way to bolstering family health as the products are good quality food items which compliment the non-perishable food items already present in foodparcels.
Families who do not have access to private and/or public transport can have difficulties getting their grocery shopping home. A number of student groups have been working alongside the Vinnies Youth team to deliver foodparcels to communities. This ensures that families who cannot readily access foodparcels or have specific family needs can be better supported. Students and staff alike remark that these moments are significant in that there is sustained face to face interactions. These moments humanise the reality of food insecurity – bringing to the forefront the importance of relationships and nurturing meaningful connections.
With the return of school programmes across Auckland, a number of student groups have resumed cooking bulk meals for families after school. These cooking programmes are significant in that they improve cooking skills, nutritional knowledge, meal planning, budgeting and shopping habits, whilst also ensuing families have greater access to essential food sources which are healthy and filling. The students involved have remarked that these platforms provide a sense of community building and wellbeing bolstering due to the social aspect of the project.
Alongside the secondary school programme, a number of women from the young adults group have resumed hosting meals for wahine that are homeless within the Auckland CBD. During nights that have been both rainy and chilling, a hot meal and opportunity for conversation has brought warmth to many who participate. Many connections were formed prior to the covid-19 lockdown, and so the weekly connect ins over a hot meal have made for some heartfelt moments of laughter and story-telling.
In each of these spaces, the Society of St Vincent de Paul have experienced the inherent strength of whanaungatanga (relationship nurturing) when seeking to support those in need, as well as within the organisation itself. There have been countless moments of speechlessness, challenge, calls to action and peaceful encounters which interweave to inform the community as shown above. July has also provided many opportunities to engage in dialogues about how to best move forward alongside those whom the Auckland Vinnies operations are sharing the journey with. As a new month unfolds, the Society of St Vincent de Paul recognise that relationships will be key to navigating the spaces of unfamiliarity ahead.