Coming Together to Serve
Laughter and music fills the air as the familiar sound of student volunteers go about their tasks for the afternoon. There is a renewed sense of rhythm in the foodbank which accompanied the beginning of a new school term; a season of connection and learning that many have grown to appreciate since the first lockdown in Aotearoa. In being mindful of the many families whom they seek to assist, the volunteers also recognised their longing for a relational connection which devices and social media could only provide so much of.
This spirit of connection has manifested itself in countless foodparcels being prepared each day – delivered by staff and wider volunteer groups across the city. Students from primary schools have mobilised their communities to provide an array of non-perishable foods for donations. Those who are in high school have also made use of their hospitality suites to prepare bulk meals and lending an extra hand in making foodparcels onsite. A number of university students, young adults and families have also proved invaluable in assessing need distributing these parcels to families in need.
Six days a week, the foodbank has been a powerhouse of activity with over 500 foodparcels made each day. At beginning of the month, the SVdP foodbank was fortunate to have the support of the Catholic Young Adults Collective and the Auckland Catholic Tertiary crew in making these parcels. Each time these young men and women attended was an opportunity to build upon the learnings of prior weeks, as well the significant insights they gained throughout the lockdown. The existing learnings proved invaluable to establishing a context upon which new relationships were formed.
The implications of COVID-19 upon the youth team engaging with students in schools has been significant. In the short-term, the youth team have had to overhaul the realities of day-to-day teaching, leading in-depth reflections and activities to learn about those whom the students will assist. Access to online platforms such as facebook and phones have proven important in this regard to ensure students feel a sense of connection and formation. Notably, there have also been much wider, ongoing impacts. The extended closure of schools and rise in need for food parcels across the city has brought forth a new wave of understanding about those who struggle to put food on the table. As schools returned to in-person teaching at the beginning of the month, the youth team had an opportunity to align these learnings to a more informed approach in how the in-school curriculum is led. It has initiated a space to ask the bigger questions about the community; namely, what does support look and feel like amidst a reality of food insecurity? The youth team were able to engage in some of these discussions in meaningful ways a number of times before the second lockdown announcement.
For many who volunteer at the foodbank, the insights which are gained find resonance – often when it is least expected. Sometimes it’s an immediate impact, sometimes it arises from a small comment or action during the day of service. Often it resonates at the crossroads where others are also seeking the answers to the lessons before them. Upon the threshold where the need is both realised and acted upon; many have learnt the gift of community, and what it truly means to support one another.
Prior to the second lockdown, the Vinnies young adults were able to host a number of meals for wahine at Auckland City Mission. These were sorely missed during the first lockdown, and many who attended these nights enjoyed the opportunities for conversation, music, dancing and being present to one another. A key learning that this service has brought about is that accompaniement bridges the distance between people, no matter their walk of life. It is walking, gently, intentionally and compassionately with one another.
Navigating Lockdown Together
As part of this month in review, Auckland Vinnies takes you through a deeper insight into the day-to-day movements of their response to the calls of those in need, particularly in the wake of Covid-19.
If pictures could speak a thousand words, then it would not be enough to contain the immensity of care and compassion that unfolded throughout the month of August. Upon the announcement of a second lockdown, there was a familiar sense of uncertainty, grief and hope as the team gathered to prepare for the unfolding reality as they did earlier in the year. Mindful of the many lessons from the previous months, staff and volunteers alike prayed and planned for what would be an insightful few weeks ahead. As the phones began to ring and the families seek support; the team knew that those few moments together would steer them in good stead.
A level 3 lockdown meant that the Vinnies foodbank was closed to the public. In a space that values the face-to-face relationality of interactions, this proved a difficult reality to navigate initially. As planned in the first lockdown, all referrals were soon taken up through phone and email, with all pick-ups collected by social workers who had pre-booked. A faithful team of workers were at the phones and computers throughout the day to receive requests for foodparcels, and more importantly, connect with the families that were in need. For the remainder of foodparcels, this invevitably meant that a slick delivery process was needed. At the crack of dawn, the team delivered close to 200 foodparcels and stopped to collect an array of PPE for oncoming essential workers and volunteers. Other key members of the team spent most of the morning making food deliveries to Mt Wellington and Auckland City Mission. Between organising the foodbank database, delivering bulk parcels and connecting with various members of the community, the team slowly found a sense of rhythm.
The team rose again bright and early to process and push out a further 400 foodboxes from the SVdP foodbank. There orders arose from a number of affiliated social services as well as personal referrals. A core team of volunteers were on hand to receive truckloads of donated bulk supplies from Pandoro Panneteria. The foodbank was abuzz with activity; the forkhoist moving in constant motion to prepare outgoing pallets of goods. There was a constant ebbing and flowing of resources coming in from various suppliers which were then distrbuted to families almost as fast as it arrived. The foodbank proved significant in this regard to ensure a seamless packing process for these varied goods. The day concluded with the packing and delivering of another 150 parcels which were destined for West Auckland.
Beyond the foodbank, a number of core volunteers ensure that food parcels are ready in time and in spec for families in need. Young men and women from CYAC and Gather have been pivotal in picking up bulk dry good supplies, packing these in their bubble with appropriate PPE before dropping these off to the Vinnies foodbank. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul were also grateful to receive constant top-up donations from suppliers such as Good Farms, Kahui Te Kaha, KiwiHarvest and Scalini throughout the day to ensure families were getting a variety of quality, nutritous meals.
With a single day to reorganise and recuperate, the first day of the week proved both challenging and fulfilling. The foodbank was in a constant whirlwind of action: the phones on gridlock and the notifications that an email had arrived were constant reminders that a family somewhere in the community was needing a helping hand. The team worked long and hard throughout the day to ensure families were getting the support they needed. The faithful group packed foodparcels all day long and into the night until midnight to ensure that there was enough prepared for the anticipated Tuesday rush.
The journey proved impossible, if not for the assistance of countless families who took turns in their ‘bubbles’ to prepare and distribute foodparcels throughout the community. This provided a much needed breather for the team who worked the night prior. The calls and emails continued to come through, with many voicing their concerns for where their next meal might come from.
The start of a new day saw a number of enthusiastic volunteers come through to support the preparation of food parcels. There were many moments of laughter and joy as the team got to work on filling each pallet with food. From the rising of the sun until the night, the foodbank moved like clockwork: each parcel put together with the health of the families at the forefront of each packers mind. A volunteer remarked that it was no longer the quantity of foodparcels that mattered, but the quality of what was going into it and what families truly needed at the time.
The bonds formed over the last week alone were such that it could only be described as meaningful, heartfelt and gospel-called. The team at the foodbank moved in sync with one another, moving from each task to the next with efficiency. From receving deliveries, to packing foodparcels, distributing, recycling unused items and preparing the space to do it all over again several times throughout the day.
The Mother of Divine Mercy Collective have supported the Society of St Vincent de Paul throughout the lockdown to deliver hundreds of fooparcels to families. The Mother of Divine Mercy operate a Women’s Refuge and are a close longtime supporter and foodbank satellite of Vinnies. They had two of their family bubbles turn up to safely process more boxes. On this day, they decided to give the team a hand at putting these food parcels together. In the week that had past, the Vinnies collective were hard pressed to keep up with demand, including pre-ordered requests for food support. Through their hardwork they were able to help the foodbank process over 1,000 boxes. With this added layer of support, the team were now in a stronger position to reconnect with families face to face as well as supporting the Vinnies youth school programme to ease into sourcing and preparing food for the following week.
Thanks to the strong presence and support of the Mother of Divine Mercy Collective during the day prior, the day proved quiet as the team dedicated more time and energy to other important tasks. Two volunteers dropped in to carefully pack a few fresh produce boxes destined for families later that day. The sense of peace was a welcome reality in the wake of lockdown journey so far.
The lockdown has provided an opportunity for many core volunteers to contribute in meaningful ways towards those who need assistance. A number of these volunteers have been part of the schools programme growing up, journeying alonside people from varying walks of life. Between picking up truckloads of supplies, hoisting and packing bulk food; these young men and women have come to a greater understanding of how their contributions make a difference. Many have stressed how rewarding it is to meet new people and put what they have learnt in life into practice. One volunteer remarked on the experience of getting a call about thirteen families from a local church community who had gone into isolation awaiting their COVID19 test results. They needed food support urgently. Without delay they assembled a drive out with foodparcels from SVdP to provide assistance to these families. That same day on the other side of the city, Fr Martin assembled a few parishioners of St Joachim’s Parish to collect and redistribute bulk produce for people across the community.
While the team were out in force delivering or restributiong resources to those in need, the foodbank was getting a much needed upgrade. With the support of generous donors, a new walk-in freezer was able to be installed onsite. This important addition to the facility will prove invaluable to maintaining fresh produce before it is redistributed to families. The upgrade has long been awaited in the wake of rising demand for food parcels, and in particular, items which are fresh and nutritious.
Before the day drew to a close, a poignant reminder of why Vinnies do the things they do came to the forefront by way of a gift. A family member who was supported shares:
“Here is something I made to hang in your window to catch the sunlight each morning and remind you of the hope we have in one another. My daughters and I don’t have much to give but we really want to say thank you. I make little things I can sell online as I have little work at the moment and my health isn’t too great because of the stress. I want you to know that these foodboxes literally saved us through those weeks. It’s been really hard for my girls because like me, it runs in the family. They are both immuno-compromised as well and the lockdown has been especially tough on them as they see their friends working as essential services. They want to be out there too. They feel powerless and excluded from it all…”
On this day, the Brown Pride NZ collective offered their support in packing food boxes and other general tasks across the foodbank. One of the volunteers reflected:
“It was a good reality check. Sometimes i think we take our lives for granted. Delivering to those in need … it was humbling. We think sometimes we’re struggling, our lives are hard, but then we see that and then you realize you’re blessed. So it was good to see that. It was good for me, to just be humble again.”
While the level three lockown comes to an end, the team are mindful that the need for families to put food on the table continues. The past seventeen days provided a tremendous space of insight and growth, and it is through this spirit of learning that the Society of St Vincent de Paul seek to accompany those in need within the community.