By Stuart Whitaker firstname.lastname@example.org
Taking on the contract to provide the Government's Lunches in Schools meals in Te Puke has meant huge changes for The Daily Charitable Trust.
Positivity and a commitment to the local community has seen the trust through some trying times since it was given the contract - and while there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is ambition to do more.
The trust recently held a launch and thank-you event at its new commercial kitchen from where the lunches are now being prepared.
In September, the trust had just12 paid staff.
"We have 34 staff now, so it's a bit crazy," says newly appointed general manager Jo Reha. "And there have been some massive growth pains from it."
But the good news is the kitchen is providing about 2000 meals a day for six of the seven local schools that qualify for free meals under the Government programme.
The six are Te Puke Primary, Intermediate and High Schools, Rangiuru, Maketū and Pukehina, with the seventh, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Matai, opting to provide lunches itself.
"The Ministry of Education are very happy with us," says Jo. "They've come in and done a couple of secret checks on us."
One of the stated goals of the trust after being awarded the contract was to find ways to provide meals for the schools that missed out.
As well as securing funding, that would almost certainly mean volunteers preparing the extra lunches.
"So the good news around that is, we've got enough of a relationship with the Ministry of Education that they trust us now and believe we can manage the relationship of paid staff and volunteers.
"I want it to happen so much and want to take a leap of faith and try and make it work. They have basically given us the green light to have volunteers in our space as long as they are not taking any roles we could pay someone for."
She says there has been a good response from people wanting to volunteer.
"We've had to say to them 'this isn't fun volunteering, this is going to be rostered, you have to turn up', and they are all keen. It's a really easy job, you are just making lunches, and it's fun, but you need to turn up because there are kids waiting for those meals."
She says finding ways of financing the extra meals is being worked on, with several options that include pay it forward.
"Once we can do that we can jump and do our 1000 other kids that aren't getting fed."
Jo says it's possible the extra meals might be provided in term 2.
She says with economies of scale the cost per meal is being kept low.
"I don't know how we've done it, but we have got amazing chefs and we are nailing it. I thought there would be tension around meeting the nutritional guidelines and then the budget, but it's not a problem - we are easily meeting them and people are already raving about the food."
Having the commercial kitchen up and running means it can also be used for making the community response meals previously prepared in The Daily Cafe kitchen, and Jo says there are also plans for a weekly soup kitchen.
"On a Wednesday, if people want to come in and help make crisis meals for people who are struggling, they can come in and do that.
"Then if people are needing a cooked meal they can come to the cafe have a meal and just be looked after. We want to try and reduce the stigma around that."
There were many practical problems in getting the kitchen up and running, the fundamental one of the internal volume of the building that was solved by creating an internal cool store.
"It took two weeks to build a whole, entire building inside a building," says Jo.
Other issues, including equipment turning up without parts, sewerage and ducting from air conditioning units, all had to be resolved.
"We're getting there and we've got an incredible team. We have found some of the most amazing people and they are right here in Te Puke. We always believed that, but it's so amazing to see it come into reality.
"We've employed them and told them to get ready to jump on a crazy train - and it's more crazy than we ever told them it was going to be.
"It's a challenging environment and it's growing rapidly and they've been amazing and our trustees are amazing. They have this massive unknown they are looking at, and they say 'OK, let's give it a go'."
One of the issues being faced is one of waste with the trust so far unable to source suitable reusable lunch containers for the lunches and Jo is keen to hear from anyone who might be able to help.