The Covid-19 Crisis has seen an unprecedented demand on foodbanks throughout New Zealand. For VisionWest’s Pātaka Kai (food service), this has meant an increase from the support of 350 households, to over 1,100. Recently, Brook Turner, Head of Community Services Development at VisionWest Community Trust, spoke to Radio Rhema about the issue of food insecurity during the time of Covid-19 and how things might need to change as we enter the recovery phase.
“Meeting the sudden increase in demand for food has been a massive challenge for us,” explains Brook. “Our first challenge was to pivot from being a traditional ‘come in and pick-up a food parcel’ service to a delivery service where food parcels were delivered to those who required them.”
This transition to food delivery saw VisionWest partnering with over 17 other West Auckland not-for-profit organisations to ensure that local whānau continued to receive food. The church auditorium was converted to food station and workers from other services within VisionWest seconded pack up to 500 food parcels a day. A second group of helpers were seconded from other community groups to deliver food on a weekly basis; locations for food delivery being geo-mapped to ensure maximum efficiency.
Extra food was required also, as Brook explains, “The increase in demand meant having to up the ante with our food support and food rescue networks. We have seen incredible generosity with businesses donating pallet loads of quality food, and the government providing money to enable us to buy those items we were unable to access from donors.”
As we enter a time of recovery, Brook suggests the Covid-19 situation has shown that the food system for the vulnerable was broken and lacked a coordinated approach. This meant, while everyone was doing their bit, and doing it well, there was not always a lot of collaboration. He is adamant, however, that this can be fixed.
“We have,” he explains, “an opportunity to redesign how we support whānau with food in the community. The question is, at the end of this crisis, how do we dismantle a person’s reliance on food parcels? How can we help individuals and whānau gain the skills, opportunities and knowledge they need to empower them to become self-reliant?”
It’s this desire to enable self-reliance that has led VisionWest Community Trust to a Kaupapa Māori approach to walking with people through their times of vulnerability; building a reciprocity into the way support is given so that any sense of a power imbalance disappears as whānau and Trust journey together as equals, each one helping others with the individual skills and abilities they have.
Brook sees this as an opportunity for all churches and social service organisations, “There are real opportunities here for churches and other groups. Many have foodbanks that do a great job. But what would it look like to take that food and add more specific social supports around it? We have fast-food outlets, but we can also have ‘fast-food charity’ where people show up, grab a parcel and leave. In a situation like that, there is no exchange of relationship, certainly not enough of an exchange to enable journeying together to a place of life transformation. And, that’s what we now have in New Zealand—an opportunity to enable life transformation. An opportunity to help people beyond the simple provision of food.”
Already a person with much experience in this area, providing food to the vulnerable during the Covid-19 event has given Brook ample opportunity to think about what the future of walking with our community through vulnerability may look like. It may begin with a food parcel, but it can end with a life that is totally transformed. To hear the full interview with Brook, CLICK HERE.