Ōrongomai Marae whare kai (dining hall) kept its focus on food through the Covid-19 lockdown as a hive of industry preparing kai packs for thousands of Hutt Valley families. It is helping meet a need that shows no sign of decreasing.
The well-respected Upper Hutt marae was established in the 1960s as a community facility for people of all ethnicities. It also provides space where many health and advocacy services hold clinics.
Because of the place of the marae in the community, staff and volunteers were able to reach out to provide practical support, especially food, after the lockdown began.
In normal times Ōrongomai has access to Kaibosh Food Rescue when the need among its community arises.
After lockdown began local foodbanks temporarily shut their doors and food co-operatives also had to stop.
The local Salvation Army brought to the marae two vanloads of perishable foods usually distributed through their own foodbank.
Knowing where the needs were
“They knew marae staff have lived in Upper Hutt a long time and would know where needs were,” marae staff member, Alison Peka says.
Marae Manager, Linda Pahi, says the social services based at the marae were deemed to run as an essential service. Kai packs could also be made up and delivered as essential support to kaumatua.
The marae had a contact list of people who used the many social services based there; they were supported via phone or Zoom during lockdown.
Word of mouth spread the news the marae was making up kai packs, including for kaumatua (seniors) living alone and for people newly laid off work.
As volunteer deliverers dropped off kai they would be told of others in need and things mushroomed. They also called on people living in central city rental accommodation places to ask if they needed help.
Many of the seniors, who were usually self-sufficient, had family living elsewhere in New Zealand or overseas and so were struggling to access groceries during lockdown. They were also given pamper packs of toiletries.
More than 7000 meals
At first, the marae was doing 50 kai packs a week, then it grew to 100 and then 200 and was named Kaibank.
By mid-May Kaibank was putting together 300 hampers a week and had supplied food to make up more than 7000 individual meals.
“This (the kai packs) seems a little but it makes a big difference,” Alison says, “especially for larger households.”
The marae team also included recipes in the packs because lockdown showed how many people didn’t know how to prepare a meal from scratch.
The hampers included jellies that children could help make.
Now that children have returned to school the hampers include items to make up for lunches.
Raising awareness on vulnerability
Alison says she believes lockdown has made people more aware of what can happen as opposed to what could happen in an emergency.
It’s been an eye-opener to see how many people are vulnerable.”
Alison says lockdown was an experience of a lifetime she hopes she never has to repeat but says how people responded was refreshing.
She considers it a privilege to be part of the team delivering hampers.
Alison believes the younger generation have really stepped up and looked for people living around them they could help.
Brought communities closer
Lockdown has brought communities closer and many people have met their neighbours for the first time.
Overall, she thinks lockdown has taught people how to be kinder and more respectful to others.
There is no timeframe at this stage as to when they will stop delivering kai.
“We are now heading to post Covid-19 but there is no sign of numbers decreasing at this stage,” Linda says.
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