A new "social supermarket" that opened its doors in Kaitaia yesterday aims to help struggling families put food on the table while preserving their choice and dignity.
Te Hiku Pātaka, at the corner of Commerce and Taaffe St, is a partnership between supermarket chain Foodstuffs North Island and iwi collective Te Kahu Oranga Whānau.
For many Far North whānau, squeezed by inflation and high food and fuel prices, the new initiative can't come soon enough.
Anyone referred to the pātaka will be able to select the kai they need from the shelves as if they were shopping at an ordinary supermarket — except they'll use a points system instead of money.
Phillip Murray, general manager of Te Whare Ruruhau O Meri, said the initial idea came from a social supermarket in the capital run by Wellington City Mission and Foodstuffs.
When Te Whare bought the building at 138 Commerce St, Kaitaia was able to "leapfrog" other locations expected to be the next cabs off the rank, such as Tauranga and Whangārei, to set up its own partnership with Foodstuffs.
The old Video Ezy building has also been a Bin Inn and was most recently owned by the Salvation Army.
Te Whare formed a collective with other iwi groups — Waitomo Papakainga Development Trust, Te Rarawa Anga Mua and Tuhiata Mahi Ora — and applied a "Māori lens" to the project. That included the use of kupu Māori (Māori words) throughout the pātaka.
"Foodstuffs has been very flexible. They recognise that we know who our whānau are here in Te Hiku and we know what their needs are. As a result we've been able to blend our needs with our corporate partner's and create something amazing."
Murray said it would be "a dignified shopping experience" and a "hand-up, not a hand-out".
"We've gone away from supplying boxes full of kai that whānau might not know how to cook, or take them home and the kids don't eat it. We don't have to do that any more."
More than 200 people attended Monday's official opening led by Bishop Te Kitohi Pikaahu. The crowd included iwi and church leaders — Te Whare Ruruhau o Meri is the social services arm of the Māori Anglican church — as well as Foodstuffs executives and the Kaitaia building apprentices who fitted out the building. New World Regent owner Eric Rush, a former NZ rugby Sevens star, gave a speech by popular demand.
Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin said the pātaka would lift people up by providing food in a dignified way.
He saw great value in Kaitaia's whānau- and iwi-supported model and hoped it could be applied elsewhere in the country.
Foodstuffs had provided shelving, chillers, training and expertise gained from running the Wellington social supermarket.
Pak'nSave Kaitaia would donate some of the goods and help the pātaka source the rest, he said.
Murray said there was no charge the first time someone was referred to the pātaka. Subsequent visits cost $15.
Customers were allocated points, depending on the size of their household, with a can of baked beans, for example, costing one point and a packet of Weetbix two points.
No alcohol or cigarettes would be stocked and sugary kai would be limited.
People would have to be referred to the pātaka, and would be provided with wraparound support to find out what their issues were and ensure that they didn't have to keep coming back.
"It's a hand-up, not a hand-out."
DeeAnn Wolferstan, chief executive of Te Kahu Oranga Whānau, said the pandemic had reaffirmed the importance of food and water sovereignty in the North.
"Te Hiku Pātaka is where whānau will exercise their choices of their kai and supplies, and experience being served and supported with dignity, respect and aroha."
It was the country's first pātaka Māori in partnership with Foodstuffs, she said.
Pātaka is the name for a traditional storehouse for food. It is also used to describe community pantries where people can donate surplus food or help themselves to anything they need.
Foodstuffs owns Pak'nSave Kaitaia, the only large supermarket in the area.
The social supermarket initiative comes as the country's two big food retail chains — Foodstuffs, which owns Pak'nSave, New World and Four Square, and Woolworths, which owns Countdown and Fresh Choice — are under pressure over claims of squeezed suppliers and anti-competitive practices.
A proposed new law will make it illegal to block competitors from accessing land for new stores as well as bringing in a mandatory code of conduct for dealing with suppliers.