A much-loved Tūrangi supermarket worker has received the ultimate lockdown accolade - being named New Zealand's Supermarket Hero.

Tupara Tupara, who has worked as an entrance supervisor at New World Tūrangi over the last six weeks, has been recognised as part of Best Foods New Zealand's Supermarket Heroes campaign to recognise and reward essential employees who went the extra mile during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The dad of three daughters received 131 nominations from family, friends, colleagues and the wider community, who praised him for his thoughtful, kind and bubbly approach with nominators describing him as having "held the town together with his positive attitude".

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Along with his friendly approach, Tupara was also recognised for his thoughtful gestures, such as meeting customers with an umbrella to keep them dry and paying close attention to sanitising trolleys to keep shoppers safe.

His prize is a luxury weekend for two at Huka Lodge, to be enjoyed at the appropriate alert level.

Tupara, 25, affiliates to the Ngāti Hikairo hapu of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and says he was surprised to win as he didn't think he would stand a chance going up against the bigger towns.

His usual job is as lifeguard team leader and swim instructor at Tūrangi's Turtle Pools but when his role was suspended during alert level 4, he approached New World Tūrangi owner Danny Pickett to see whether he had any work going.

"Providing for his family is pretty important to him and he wanted to help out where he could," says Danny. "[Fellow employee] Tau Thompson introduced me to him and said he would be pretty good at it.

"He just had a quiet empathy really and just a very calm way. I said 'can you talk to people?' and he said 'I'm really good at that' so we gave him some pointers and some hand sanitiser and he just put his own spin on it."

Tupara says at first the role was stressful because he could see people were anxious about coming out during lockdown but he was happy to be in a role where he could help the community and support the other essential workers at New World.

"We are really tight as a community, we all stick together and that's the great thing about it, is that everyone worked together to make it easier on us and on them."

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"I just want to say a big thank you to my community, New World, Best Foods, and all the other essential workers and community for their support. To be honest I just treated each day like another normal day. I could see the fear in our customers, so I just kept smiling and sanitising to keep everyone calm and help them feel like everything was going to be okay."

He added he was grateful to his partner Skye Dent for her work at home while he was at New World and said he was looking forward to the weekend at Huka Lodge with her.
Danny says he's incredibly proud of his employee, and has arranged a month's supply of groceries to be added to Tupara's prize.

"During lockdown, the community really bonded together, but Tupara was like the glue spreading calm and reassurance," says Danny.

"So proud of this guy...well deserved. Great to be recognised for doing a great job as does all our team during the lockdown.

"Also a big thank you to our community for being so understanding and patient during this difficult time, and for nominating and supporting this special young man."

The awards aimed to recognise the over 60,000 supermarket employees across the nation who faced longer hours, disgruntled customers and risked their own health and safety for the wider community.

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