A charity providing free meals for families struggling to cope with newborn babies is benefitting from solar power.

Ani Stace felt like she was living in a "bubble of sadness".

Suffering from post-natal depression after the birth of her daughter - at the same time as being the main caregiver for her dying mother - life could hardly have been tougher.

"I felt quite isolated," she says. "It was like I was living in a bubble of sadness. My baby had reflux and would scream and scream; my mother was terminally ill and there were times I had to get up at 2am to go to her in Papatoetoe. It was a very intense time."

Ironically these events - which occurred four years ago - have ultimately been of benefit not just to Stace, but to dozens of other families in the east Auckland area. Stace became a volunteer with a charity called Bellyful, a group that delivers free meals to families struggling with newborn babies or who have a child or parent suffering from serious or terminal illness.


"Being able to help others has been a real saviour for me," says Stace who, with her husband and two daughters (four and eight months), lives in Beachlands. "It 100 per cent helped get me through my depression by giving me something to do and focus on. It has been a huge and positive thing in my life."

This is where leading energy company Vector and majority shareholder Entrust comes in.

The country's largest distributor of electricity and gas is also spearheading the transformation of the energy sector into a new future; part of its focus is solar energy and their collaboration with Tesla's revolutionary Powerwall batteries is now playing a key role in Stace's work.

She was the winner of Vectors Future of Energy competition where 130 deserving families and community organisations had solar panels installed for 10 years' use, as well as a Powerwall battery. Stace says the system, installed last winter, is trimming around $100 off her monthly power bill.

Watch here how Bellyful, a charity providing free meals for families with newborn babies is benefitting from solar power.

Stace, who helps run the east Auckland branch of Bellyful, has a deep freeze at her home stacked full of meals given to those in need. She entered the competition to save on her power bill - and in November had her lowest bill in six years; at $88 it was more than $100 less than normal.

Her freezer can hold up to 65 meals, but because of the quick turn-over, usually has 20 to 30 awaiting delivery at any one time. She supplies families living between Whitford and Maraetai.

Each month throughout the wider east Auckland area up to 140 meals - which volunteers meet twice a month to cook - are delivered. They include macaroni cheese, spaghetti bolognese, lasagna and vegetarian soup, while Stace also delivers donated frozen speciality bread.

The main criteria are families don't have others available to cook for them and have a baby up to three months old or are a young family with one person in it - a child, parent or grandparent - suffering a serious or terminal illness.

No financial assessment is involved. "It is not just for people with no money," says Stace. "It might be someone who lives in a mansion overlooking the sea who has no-one to look after them."

Stace says she became involved with Bellyful as a way of helping people facing hardship like she experienced.

"There are some terrible, terrible situations that are raw and real. There was one young mother we were helping who had three children and was suffering from cancer herself; we give to mums with stillborn babies; we give to mums who have lost their own parents," she says.

Bellyful has 18 branches throughout the country and nationally over 1500 meals are cooked each month. Over 400 volunteers help prepare and deliver the food which is kept simple but nutritious as most families who receive help have pre-school children.

The competition was made possible by Entrust and chairman, William Cairns, says Future of Energy was supported via a fund recently extended to include new technology such as solar and battery: "Entrust is committed to making a difference to our beneficiaries' lives and Future of Energy is another example of that."

• A Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment report last year found solar generated an estimated 33 gwh of electricity in 2015 - or just 0.1 per cent of primary renewable energy. However this was double the 2014 figure and was enough to supply every household in central Hawkes Bay which at the 2013 census had 5,169 occupied dwellings.