South Auckland food banks and social services have been anticipating another Covid outbreak for months, reports Justin Latif.
Knowing another lockdown was inevitable, over the last 12 months Sosefina Paletaoga’s organisation purchased a truck, two refrigerated containers and a fork hoist for their foodbank. But the need to buy wraparound sunglasses to stop the delta variant being caught through their eyes was something they hadn’t thought of.
Paletaoga says her social service provider, Ōtara Health, like many of the organisations The Spinoff spoke to, were well advanced in their preparations when the latest community outbreak hit. “We knew it was only a matter of time that we would get delta and so we’ve not been messing around,” she says. “But we’ve also recently learnt it can be caught through any body cavity, including the eyes, so we’re also looking into buying face shields or wraparound glasses.”
The Ōtara-based charity provides food parcels for large families, alongside a range of other social services, and Paletaoga expects this lockdown to match the first one in terms of demand for its services. “During last year’s level four lockdown we easily spent $80,000 in less than three months so if this lockdown goes for a month we would need about $10,000 a week to provide about 350 food parcels each week.”
Manukau Urban Māori Authority chief executive Wyn Osborne says despite having a well-oiled food bank service with the capacity to provide 70-80 food parcels a day, he’s extremely concerned about the transmissibility of delta. “We’re in new territory from a risk perspective so this [lockdown] has felt a bit more like the first two weeks of last year’s first lockdown because of the uncertainty.”
His organisation made the decision to temporarily close its food bank to review all its processes, ensuring staff and those needing food wouldn’t unknowingly pass on the virus. “The underlying learning from the previous lockdowns has served us well but we really had to satisfy ourselves that we had made some improvements to our processes, given it’s such a highly infectious variant.”
MUMA is also joining forces with 13 other marae and Māori organisations in the greater Auckland area to establish a Māori Food Network. The network was formed in response to supermarkets experiencing shortages as a large number of essential workers have been required to self-isolate. So far the network has purchased $500,000 worth of shopping vouchers and $250,000 worth of bulk items to redistribute between community and social service organisations to ensure vulnerable whānua get the support they need.
Te Puea Winiata, chief executive of Turuki Healthcare says the expertise of the 14 different organisations involved means they will be able to “create an integrated system that can mobilise quickly, manage problems and find solutions” for families across the region. Over in Ōtara, the Community Builders NZ trust runs the Ōtara Kai Village from four large containers outside the suburb’s town centre. While it’s not strictly a food bank, it serves as a community focal point for a range of support services, as well as distributing food and other essential items.
Community Builders NZ director Terangi Parima says the delta variant has made them “extra cautious” but also forced them to come up with some creative solutions. “We’ve tightened our bubbles and we’ve made sure we only have three volunteers on site at any one time.
“It’s been mainly about giving out masks and hand sanitisers as we know these products are in high demand and can be quite expensive for our families.”
To keep community spirits high, the organisation’s Facebook page runs online scavenger hunts and holds virtual birthday parties. Given this lockdown is likely to stretch over a longer period, Parima says they are placing a high priority on looking after people’s mental, as well as physical, wellbeing. “The last few lockdowns have been super full on for us and we’ve really been in response mode since the first lockdown, so we’ve also been trying to make sure our team can get a little bit of a break so they have time to help their own families.”
Labour MP Arena Williams has been supporting a number of foodbanks around her electorate of Manurewa. She says there’s been a high demand for food, nappies, sanitary products and household essentials in her area and she expects this to grow. “I called around community organisations and heard the same story of frantic need from families with weekly budgets already under pressure from winter power use,” she says. “And during the first weekend, I saw 1500 cars come for food packs from the Takanini Supreme Sikh Society.”
She’s also noted that organisations have learnt from previous lockdowns to pace themselves.
“The organisations I’m in regular contact with are proud to serve their community in a time of need, and they know their work keeps vulnerable people safe at home. But they’ve also learnt from previous lockdowns how important it is to look after themselves so that they can keep looking after others.”