City Foodbank lifesaver for the needy

By Genevieve Helliwell

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Standing behind a bench, I look into the eyes of a desperate young woman who has come to the Tauranga Community Foodbank.

She has no money, she has no food, and her 18-month-old daughter is hungry.

"This is my last resort otherwise I would probably have to rob people and sell the stuff. You have to get money for food somehow."

The solo mum is on a benefit and after paying rent and bills, she's left with less than $50, which goes toward nappies and formula for her daughter.

"There's nothing left for me. It's really hard when you're in this situation. You can't see a way out," she told the Bay of Plenty Times.

"I'm constantly struggling but having this service, it's really much appreciated."

The Tauranga Community Foodbank is a place of desperation but it's also a place of hope.

"If it wasn't for this, I don't know what I'd do," the young mum said. "It's literally a lifesaver."

The Foodbank is run by a dedicated team of volunteers, who work behind the scenes and package up food parcels for the needy.

The number of people who use the service varies from day-to-day, but an average of 160 food parcels are issued each week, with most going to single-parent families.

On Thursday I joined the willing workers to find out how vital the Foodbank is in the community.

When I arrived, Foodbank chairman Mike Baker introduced me to the six volunteers and showed me around the building he calls "a supermarket".

The shelves are lined with cans and tins, bags of sugar and flour and packets of muesli bars and more. Everything has its place, which makes it easier when volunteers restock the shelves.

On one side of the great room are six giant chest freezers, filled with bread, sausages and other frozen goods. Cans of food are stacked in an L-shaped shelving unit along two sides of the room and in the centre is a giant table where all the food is processed.

In the next room is a small area where volunteers can eat their lunch and a large walk-in fridge unit with fresh produce and eggs inside.

They'd like to be able to give out milk but it's too expensive, Mr Baker says.

The building is bare but it doesn't need to be fancy.

Even without all the bells and whistles, it costs about $2000 a month to operate the Foodbank, Mr Baker says.

The charity also purchases between $5000 and $7000 worth of product a month.

There is one paid position - the office assistant role - which is split between two women. The rest of the Foodbank team are volunteers.

At 12.05pm a person comes to the foodbank with a referral slip. It's for one adult and three children.

The slip is processed and a volunteer begins to pack the food into a cardboard box.

Five minutes later another person enters - this time it's for one adult and three children.

Mr Baker tells me there is no specific time when the Foodbank is quiet. However when people do come, they generally come in waves.

At 12.16pm the phone rings and the office lady is interrupted from her lunch break. It's a referral agency assigning a new client to the Foodbank.

The new referral brings the number of people on the Foodbank database to 17,297.

Some of the clients have used the Foodbank service once, while others have used it dozens of times.

At 12.28pm lunch break is over and I help a volunteer scoop portions of a bucket of margarine into smaller containers. Not long after we finish the task the phone rings again with another new client. One minute later, a woman walks through the Foodbank door.

I walk around "the supermarket" with a volunteer and help collect the food items. The size and contents of each food parcel are determined by how many people are in the family.

In the next hour, the phone rings at least a dozen times and about the same number of people walk into the Foodbank with referral slips.

Some of the biggest referrals of the day were for eight people - two adults and six children - and another for one adult and five children.

Solo parents with multiple children are common recipients of food parcels, Mr Baker says.

This week, 143 food parcels were handed out.

During my volunteering at the Foodbank, an anonymous caller rings up and pledges a $1000 donation to the Bay of Plenty Times Christmas Appeal.

Since it was launched last Saturday, 908 items and $1108 have been donated to the Foodbank, which Mr Baker says is outstanding.

"It's been amazing, we're extremely happy with how many people have brought personal hygiene care and other such products in, we never get enough of that. And baby products; food, nappies, wipes. These things are desperately needed."

My time volunteering is almost up and the Foodbank doors are about to close for the day.

But minutes before 2pm closing time, a middle-aged woman appeared, desperately seeking help. With no food in the fridge and hungry children, she was desperate for food and had nowhere else to go. The Foodbank was her last option.

A referral slip was filled out and the woman left with a cardboard box full of food for her and her children.

"When you see people like that you really get a sense of how important this service is," Mr Baker says.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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