As more and more people in Queenstown face unexpected challenges because of the international Covid-19 pandemic, comforting home-cooked meals are being provided with donated labour and food.
For the past three months, volunteers aged between 15 and 81 have been meeting twice weekly at an Arrowtown community hall to sort donated produce for dispatch to off-site cooks and coordinate outgoing frozen meal packs.
Skilled cooks and chefs are pumping out large volumes of meals for the benefit of others,”
Baskets of Blessing Volunteer Coordinator Lee Nicolson says. Some cook at home under strict protocols and the chefs work in their commercial kitchens.
During and after the nationwide lockdown, 10,000 meals were produced in 10 weeks. At present, approximately 600 meals per week are being dispatched.
Lee anticipates this demand will continue for three to six months, however the community group will keep cooking as long as the need exists.
Since late March when New Zealand temporarily closed its borders to tourists to try and contain the virus, Queenstown has experienced a major economic downturn and job losses.
In addition to the crisis increasing demand for food support, she says it has helped people be more mindful of whether their friend, neighbour or colleague might be in need.
Volunteer driven partnership
Sustainable Queenstown and KiwiHarvest have partnered to deliver rescued perishable food to Baskets of Blessing, which was set up 10 years ago to gift customised baskets. So, a teenage boy would receive different goodies than a new mum. Two years ago, this was extended to include home-cooked meals.
Those in the community nominate people with a circumstantial need – perhaps they’ve come home from hospital, given birth or are recently bereaved. They receive a gift basket or meals cooked by volunteers with food mainly rescued from local supermarkets.
It’s 100 per cent volunteer driven and 100 per cent donations and people giving their time and their energy to produce meals to help others,” Lee says.
The goal is that each delivery will “bring joy and hopefully ease the challenges they are facing”.
Lee says the gift baskets were temporarily suspended during the Covid-19 lockdown, when Baskets of Blessing was declared an essential service and so focused on cooking and freezing meals.
The resulting diet-specific meal packs are distributed in cooler bags which contain a minimum of two soups, two desserts, four main courses and two batches of baking. Additional meals are added as required.
Recipients live alone or in couples or large families and represent “a total cross section of the community”, including migrant workers previously employed in tourism and now struggling to survive.
KiwiHarvest Queenstown Coordinator Lucy Deuble says that five days a week, she visits all the Queenstown supermarkets to collect produce, baked and dairy items and sometimes meat.
The goods are usually close to their ‘best before’ date however are safe to eat.
On average, she gathers 500 kg a day. Twice a week she takes food to Baskets of Blessing, to which she’s delivered a total 28,184 kg since late 2018. When converted into meals going into the community, this equals 80,525 meals made from good food which would otherwise have gone to landfill.
Sometimes farmers donate the meat left after an animal has been butchered or surplus vegetables in season, such as pumpkins or potatoes.
“It’s really heart-warming when people think beyond what they can do with the food and want to give it out to the community,” Lucy says.
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Watch this video about Baskets of Blessing: filmed, directed and edited by James Haskard and produced by Peter Newport for Crux.