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Breaking poverty on the menu

Conversation, connections, kai. The Daily Cafe staff await the Te Puke community. Photo: Jo Reha

Helping to break the poverty cycle is on the menu at The Daily Cafe in Te Puke, in the Bay of Plenty.

“It’s an interesting town – you can grow up and have had an amazing experience but not everyone’s sharing in that experience,” says Chrissi Robinson, a founding trustee of The Search Party Charitable Trust.

The trust owns The Daily Cafe, which hosts monthly free pizza nights for the community. Volunteers serve pizza to customers who may be rough sleepers, families or the wealthy. Locals devour pizza together and talk, forming connections they otherwise might not have done.

As part of helping to break the poverty cycle, the trust runs food education courses. Parents are learning to cook nutritional meals for the first time and those who’d previously bought ready-made meals can now read recipes and cook confidently; this is strengthening entire families.

Te Puke is a small town and many of its services are centralised in Tauranga or Whakatāne. The trust works with others to improve transportation and as a result, the time it takes locals to travel by bus to the polytechnic in Tauranga has been significantly reduced, making a noticeable difference to journey times and lives.

Meanwhile, in a struggling Te Puke suburb, many students were absent from school. The bus cost $12 a week per child, so the trust worked with three local schools and free transport is now provided.

“That’s had a massive effect on attendance and just community,” she says.

Nutrition and education

“It’s an amazing little town, it’s really quite unique. It’s a privilege to work here. People want to see people connected and thriving,” Chrissi says.

The three six-week food education courses have taught 25 families how to feed their family well and save money.

She says the trust has realised that nutrition and education are important in breaking the poverty cycle. Sometimes people receive food from community gardens or food banks but don’t know how to cook it.

The course’s first lesson is how to cut an onion properly, which can be a tear-inducing eye-opener for some.

One lady was totally bewildered about what was happening to her eyes!”


Chrissi mentions another woman who’d grown up in foster care and always placed cans in boiling water to heat the food. By the end of the course, she was successfully cooking vegetable lasagne.

Eating together is also part of the course.

“Our real heart here is to bring people together.”

“We’ve really put a lot of time and love into this”: Chrissi Robinson, a trustee at The Search Party Charitable Trust. Photo: Jo Reha

Participants then take the cooked meals home so their children can taste them. When someone lives on a low budget, they can’t afford to produce food which others in the household don’t like.

Some parents are so busy working that their children are preparing meals themselves, so the trust and schools are seeking solutions.

Cottage Pie Night

Once a month on Cottage Pie Night, volunteers cook 60 cottage pie family meals for those in crises. This project began after a realisation that the town didn’t have any provision for  people who sometimes needed a hot meal.

“They go out like hotcakes each month,” Chrissi says.

Some volunteers are high school students and their culinary experience has resulted in them getting jobs.

In another venture, The Daily Help, agencies such as the police, Plunket and Cancer Society refer people who need work done at their properties, usually outside tasks.

Volunteers, including those sleeping rough or struggling with mental health, do this gardening as well as other work. This sometimes means that tenants who can’t look after properties don’t lose their homes.

“It’s given the people that we’re working with a real sense of worth and value.”

Those being assisted also lend a hand during these working bees and afterwards they return with the volunteers to the cafe for a feed.

The Daily Cafe and other projects employ about 20 permanent, part-time and casual staff and they also have hundreds of volunteers who make vital contributions.

A Search Party Charitable Trust trustee, Richard Crawford, working practically in the community with The Daily Help. Photo: Jo Reha

Community collaboration

The trust collaborates with other organisations to break the poverty cycle by bringing long-term change, particularly in the areas of nutrition, transport, homelessness and youth.

You can do so much more together than you can apart, especially with those big picture issues,” Chrissi says.


She says Te Puke has amazing resources and people and the trust loves being a connection point for these.

“We want to make connections between people and other organisations because we think it’s all those networks that make the town strong.”

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The Daily Cafe


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