Hungry locals wade through trash for a meal

Cash-strapped Wairarapa families are stealing food to survive.

Left with just $50 for food some are risking their health or being arrested for stealing from supermarkets and shops to provide for their families.

One Masterton woman has admitted to dumpster diving and stealing food and local advocates say she isn't the only one resorting to breaking the law to feed children.

Progressive Enterprises, which operates the Countdown, Supervalue, Fresh Choice and Woolworths brands, says Dumpster diving is not a major problem but is a dangerous one as food was thrown into bins for safety reasons.


Wairarapa Advocacy Service manager Trevor MacKiewicz said at least half of the 500 clients on his books have admitted to stealing food or taking it from bins outside shops.

"It's nothing new to me to hear people are Dumpster diving. They just have to do it because they don't have enough to survive on. Some have less than $50 for food ... They are just trying to get food from where ever they can ... They are stealing ... it's just not easy for them to survive. "

It's not only beneficiaries, he said.

"Low-income earners are finding it difficult to pay all the bills and have enough to feed their family on as well."

As for Dumpster diving, he warns clients not to do it.

"It's theft. The police see it as theft. It only makes life harder if they get arrested. Theft is theft and if you are jumping into a bin you are on someone else's property. It's trespass."

Local foodbanks help but can't offer unlimited food parcels to people, he said.

Masterton Free Advisory Service advocate Grant Howard said he had heard stories of people stealing food but worked with clients to ensure they paid the rent and power and had enough left for food.


"We reduce outgoing debts so they do have enough for food. It's crazy not to," he said.

Progressive Enterprises public affairs manager Kate Porter said Dumpster diving wasn't a big issue. "We don't encourage or condone people taking food from our bins," she said.

Products discarded include products with expiry dates which made them unsuitable for human consumption.

"Food expiry dates are based on scientific testing and if food has been dumped, it is there for a reason.

"Food safety can't be guaranteed and sometimes even recalled or withdrawn products end up in the bins. It's also considered theft and sometimes vandalism," she said.

The company gives food to charities through its Food Rescue programme for the needy.

Last year it provided $1.4 million worth of groceries nationally to foodbanks through the Salvation Army, Kaibosh, Fair Good and 0800 Hungry.

The Ministry of Social Development helps too. In the past year in Masterton, Work and Income has provided 3049 food grants to clients through Special Needs Grants.

Katie McRedmond, Ministry of Social Development acting regional commissioner, said a range of factors were taken into consideration, including the size of a family, before food grants were approved, ensuring people were receiving their correct, full entitlements. The amount of support available for people in hardship through Special Needs Grants depended on individual circumstances, she said.