In times of need help can come from anywhere, even your favourite restaurant.

Seventh Avenue Group runs three Tauranga restaurants - Brooklyn Patio on The Strand, Neighbourhood Kitchen in Cherrywood and Rain Bar in Pāpāmoa. And it's just launched Pay It Forward, offering restaurant quality meals to those in need.

"When we created our online platform, for all our takeaways and the fact that people can order from us online, we thought let's come up with an initiative where it gives the customers an opportunity to pay their bill forward to someone else who might need it," said Rohan McCloskey of Seventh Avenue Group.

"We can actually provide quality food to those who couldn't otherwise have it. I think it's awesome what charities do and there's food banks available that do an incredible job. But I think it's so cool that a restaurant can actually get meals from their menu and then go and give it to people who couldn't have that."

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Paying it forward is as easy as adding a side of fries to your order.

"At the checkout they simply select the Pay It Forward option – we've got it set up as a product in the system and they can donate from as little as $10 to as much as $200. We then run a report on how much has been donated to Pay It Forward and then 100 per cent of that money's used to provide meals for those that need it," said McCloskey.

A local charity has also come on board, to make sure the meals are reaching the right people.

"We don't just want people coming to us and asking for free food," McCloskey said. "We partnered with Curate Cares which is a charity that has a database of people they're regularly in contact with who they're already supporting on an ongoing basis."

"People have seen our social media, they've seen what we're doing and donations are already coming in. It's early days at this stage but it's something that we see has a lot of opportunity going forward, and something that we'll continue to do as a business."

Across town in Parkvale, the Tauranga Community Foodbank has stepped things up to meet unprecedented demand since lockdown.

"We've seen an increase all year in demand and that was mainly due to housing, but as soon as Covid hit we've seen demand change for different reasons," said manager Nicki Goodwin.

"Housing's still a big reason but we've got a lot of international people who are stuck in New Zealand with our seasonal workers around here, so we're supporting them.

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"And we've stepped in to help a lot of elderly people who were stuck at home, didn't have any way of accessing food so we've taken on responsibility for them, although we've seen that drop off lately.

"We've seen a lot of people who are running out of income or have lost their jobs. So we've seen in April a 53 per cent increase from the same time last year."

And Auckland charity 5+ A Day has reached into the regions to help out local foodbanks.

"That was a really nice surprise last week. So we got 40 boxes of beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables, all packaged so we didn't have to touch anything. Most of them went out the door the next day."

And for some, that meant fresh fruit and veg were back on the menu.

"We haven't been able to collect the same fruit and vegetables during lockdown," Goodwin explained.

"Some of our food has traditionally been rescued through supermarkets. So we haven't had access like we usually do. We have accepted from local suppliers direct but this was just an absolute windfall.

"The fruit and vegetables that we give are the icing on the cake. We know a food parcel can provide meals but having the fruit and vegetables makes all our food go further and the appreciation from people receiving it, you really feel it."

The foodbank is staffed entirely by volunteers, working around the clock to make sure the donations get distributed.

"I'm at university up in Auckland and Tauranga's home for my family," said volunteer Cayne Dew. "Mum actually volunteers here every Tuesday. When university got put online I made the decision to come home and save a little bit of money and be with family during this time. Mum said they needed a little bit of help here and I thought it was a good way to spend my time instead of just lounging about at home basically."

Pay It Forward can be reached here.

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