Northland's largest iwi is pulling out the stops — and in some cases also ex-army transport — to get food to some of the region's most isolated communities.
So far Ngāpuhi has delivered more than 8000 kai packs with the goals of providing iwi members with enough food to get through the lockdown as well as making sure the most vulnerable, especially kuia and kaumatua, don't have to leave their homes even to go to the supermarket.
The project is being run by iwi health provider Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi on behalf of Te Rūnanga-ā-iwi o Ngāpuhi.
The rūnanga's interim chief executive, Te Rōpu Poa, said that as well as basic foodstuffs, the kai packs contained drinking water, which was a priority during the drought, and lots of fruit and vegetables, because they were difficult to get under level 4 restrictions.
Meat, frozen fish and milk were included in some packs but sugar was not.
The needs of anyone who rang the iwi's 0800 number were assessed with priority given to those aged 60-plus. Some 3000 kai packs had also been distributed to iwi members in Auckland via Ngāpuhi's Mahurehure Marae.
Poa said the rūnanga had put in $100,000 to get the project started. The rest of the money had come from government agencies and Covid-19-specific grants, which Ngāpuhi had applied for as part of a collective of 10 Northland iwi.
The rūnanga had also called on whānau links – Eric Rush, for example, owns a Whangārei supermarket and helped with bulk supplies – while private businesses donated everything from boxes to pallet-loads of fruit and bottled water.
"It's been really amazing, we're very grateful. We never even asked, they just saw what we were doing." Poa said.
Packing and distribution had been organised from the former Kaikohe RSA, now owned by Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi, with a team of 15 kaimahi (workers) and volunteers.
Poa said the packs were delivered once a fortnight to encourage people to stay home and stay well.
"It is a two-fold thing. It's not just providing food, it's also getting people to stay at home so we can get rid of the virus."
Two Northland-wide drops had been completed so far with a third next week focusing on the needs of women and babies. A final drop of winter packs would include things like firewood and draught-stoppers.
One of last week's runs saw two truck-loads of kai, water and disinfectant transported to whānau in Horeke, Mangamuka and Mangataipa.
Taking care of that delivery was Mita Harris, of Kerikeri, and the ex-army Unimog trucks he's looking after on Northlanders' behalf.
He was helped by former Defence Force driver Hone Heta and separate loading and unloading teams at each end to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
Harris said conditions were fine on the day but, with the 1980s 5.7-litre turbo Unimogs able to get through almost 2m of water, even serious flooding wouldn't have hindered them.
''Not much stops these trucks,'' he said.
■ Harris is looking for people who can offer financial or other assistance to keep the Unimogs on the road. He can be contacted on 027 226 1584.