Steve Braunias discovers a kitchen of kindess, Pātaka Kai, and has a hunger to help.
It's nothing flash but I'd eat it. Three sandwiches, which I get up and make in the darkness before dawn, in a quiet kitchen. I'm conscious that the person who gets the most benefit out of it might be myself. It's a pleasure to spread the honey and watch its sticky sweetness invade all four corners of the bread. It's a pleasure to add peanut butter and banana – I texture much of my life on the governing principle of the more, the merrier. It's a pleasure to spread the tomato sauce and see its red flat lake lap the shores of the bread. It's a pleasure to lay a slice of luncheon sausage - I named my publishing company after that classic New Zealand foodstuff – and maybe add a bit of red pepper or cucumber or some kind of vegetable that anyone can eat and like, so obviously not kale.
Marmalade sandwiches, silverside sandwiches, jam sandwiches, three-tier cheese and tomato and red onion sandwiches. Whatever kind of sandwiches, which I cut neatly in half and place with biscuits and an apple in a paper bag. I usually leave the house at 6.30am. The sky is still black but softening into a kind of purple and the birds have started singing. No one is about and there's nothing to look at until I turn a couple of corners and see the bright lights of the corner bakery. The walls are painted green; the shop kind of looks like the green flashing light at the end of a dock. Around the next corner I can see the lights of the city across the black water and further along is the tin shed.
It went up sometime last year, I think. It didn't have a sign or anything but it was outside a church and so there was an inference that it was an act of Christian care in the community: there were shelves inside the shed, and a few tins of food began appearing on them. A few months ago a sign appeared: PĀTAKA KAI.
There are 117 of these free food pantries around New Zealand, with another 53 in construction. There are five in Manurewa, four in Glen Eden, the only one on the North Shore is in Beach Haven (Fairclough Rd), there's one on the millionaires' row of Grey Lynn (Ivanhoe Rd). I read the Pātaka Kai website: "The (Pātaka Kai) Open Street Pantry Movement is a resident-led, grassroots, crowd-sourced solution to immediate and local need … Kai has a role of nourishing whānau tinana and wairua, while reducing stress and promoting the values of koha and manaaki … It's about that whole sense of manaakitanga." Don't ask me what most of those te reo words mean and I'm sorry about that but I got the basic drift of it and thought: "Good idea, I could make some kai."
Other people in my neighbourhood have latched on to it. Sort of. The other day someone donated a little box of sachets called Beta Heart. It's some kind of powder and it makes a cholesterol-reducing beverage. No one has exactly been in any hurry to take them home. A few weeks ago there was a great big sack of potato flakes. It's for making instant mashed potato. Mostly, the shelves are full of lemons. Someone had a more useful idea quite recently and made up bags containing soup mix plus 1X carrot, 1X onion and 1X stick of pale celery.
Well, you know. All of it's better than nothing, I suppose and for all I know the sandwiches aren't regarded with any particular enthusiasm. I hope they at least fill a gap. I try not to imagine who eats them. It's none of my damned business. So long as it's not just some fat guts who already has more than enough to eat. That would render my dawn ritual kind of like totally pointless – old whitey in the kitchen, piously applying sauces and spreads, a bread-and-butter Ned Flanders okily dokily doing nothing of any use. I may as well be a government department.
Maybe I'll get sick of it and stop. Maybe no one will notice or care. But the novelty hasn't worn off yet and neither has the pleasure of spreading, cutting, tiering and placing in a brown paper bag for the possible benefit of a complete stranger who could do with a feed. Check the Pātaka Kai website for details of a pantry near you.
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Next week: Ashleigh Young