What on Earth was TVNZ playing at when they introduced Gail, the ungrateful beneficiary, to the nation last week?
Gail was bemoaning the fact that the Ministry of Social Development had given her a My Food Bag food kit as part of a trial.
Up to 1000 emergency food bags have been given out to beneficiaries because, according to the department's Viv Rickard, they want to be more creative in the way that they deal with their clients.
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There were more than 570,000 hardship grants granted in the September 2019 quarter, more than double the number in the September 2014 quarter, and putting food on the table was the most common reason for needing assistance.
Rather than just handing over supermarket vouchers, the ministry said they wanted to introduce their clients to simple, healthy nutritious ingredients and recipes.
Food banks around the country report that people looking for extra food are better off with tinned or packaged foods as many don't have the ability or the facilities to cook their own meals. So here's a chance for people to gain confidence in the kitchen.
Also, a lot of people on low incomes don't have vehicles so find it difficult to get to a supermarket to buy low-cost, healthy food. Here, it's delivered to your door. The team at My Food Bag had to modify recipes as they were aware that not everyone has a microwave or more than one pot and there are concerns about the cost of power, so long, slow cooking of meals wasn't an option.
The bags cost between $200-$300 and are meant to supply breakfast, lunch and dinner. However Gail, who was the only beneficiary receiving a bag to be interviewed, was singularly unimpressed. She said there wasn't enough food for herself and her daughter to last the week. She called the food bag totally unsuitable as her daughter is gluten free and couldn't eat some of the food - the noodles, the wraps, the sour cream. The last word from Gail was that she felt controlled by being given set recipes and ingredients.
She was every bit the stereotypical whining, ungrateful, entitled beneficiary that talkback callers love to beat up and it wasn't fair to her and it wasn't fair to other beneficiaries.
Given that it's a trial, given that Viv Rickard says they're looking for ways to improve the bags to better suit the situation of their clients and given that there's a choice - the beneficiaries don't have to take the bags if they don't want them; if they prefer vouchers they can have them - I thought the news team had done all of the parties a disservice - Gail, beneficiaries, the Ministry of Social Development and My Food Bag.
My Food Bag and the other food kits available now AREN'T for everyone. Some people would much prefer to make their own choices about what they'll put on the table, be they beneficiaries or well heeled Herne Bay yummy mummies. But for me, and hundreds and thousands of other Kiwis who buy food kits, they're a god send.
It used to drive me spare standing staring blankly at supermarket shelves wondering what to cook the family for dinner. I love the fact that my dinners for the week arrive on a Sunday night in a box containing the recipes and all the ingredients I'll need.
Full disclosure - I've been gifted some MFB products and I've been a paying customer over the years since it was introduced to the market AND I voted for Nadia Lim on Dancing with the Stars. But I really do think we should wait and see the results of the trial before setting it up to fail. Who knows? Other clients of the Ministry of Social Development might love the fact that they're cooking fresh healthy meals for their families and feel a sense of accomplishment when they serve up dinner at home, rather than relying on tins or takeaways. I know I do.