Demand for welfare in Whanganui has increased sharply since the Covid-19 lockdown with some using the foodbank for the first time.
Whanganui has received a share of a $30 million government support package intended to bolster the delivery of food and welfare assistance by local authorities and Civil Defence Emergency Management groups to those who need it the most.
Whanganui Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) welfare manager Lauren Tamehana said there had been between 20 to 30 requests for welfare support each day during the Covid-19 emergency.
"Mostly for food, blankets, clothing and heating, including firewood. We deliver food parcels to people in the Whanganui district but also work closely with councils in the Whanganui District Health Board region who are providing local welfare support."
Under the level 4 lockdown, the EOC received 293 requests for support and delivered 179 food parcels.
"There are also many other community groups and agencies who are supporting people during the Covid-19 pandemic, which also ordinarily be supporting during "peacetime".
"Those who aren't supported by these organisations receive direct support from the Whanganui EOC welfare team," Tamehana said.
The EOC is working collaboratively with Te Ranga Tupua, which is a Covid-19 response collective made up of Iwi within the Ruapehu, Rangitīkei, Whanganui and South Taranaki region.
They have established a hub being operated out of Te Oranganui at 57 Campbell St.
The hub has been running a 24/7 contact service and staff at Te Oranganui have been making up food packs and dropping off deliveries to iwi organisations and communities, as well as kaumātua and whānau in need.
"We also work with Horizons Regional Council's welfare support for the wider group of territorial authorities," Tamehana said.
"A pandemic is a relatively rare emergency event, so the welfare needs for our communities are complex and different from another type of emergency event such as a flood."
Tamehana said those seeking help are a mix of people experiencing sudden hardship due to loss of income, people who were struggling prior to the lockdown and over-70s, who have been asked to stay at home and have no-one to shop for them.
"Some people need wellbeing support, for example, someone to talk to, and we keep in regular contact with them or let them know about other support services available."
City Mission manager Karrie Brown estimates the food bank has distributed around three times the usual number of food parcels since the Covid-19 level 4 lockdown began on March 26.
"I know there would be a lot more if it weren't for the support people have been getting from EOC and Te Ranga Tupua."
"I have seen how busy food banks have been in other parts of the country and it says a lot for the Whanganui community that we're not overwhelmed."
Brown said there have been shortages of some staple items that are usually added to food parcels.
"We make up big parcels because we want to ensure that they will last a week.
"Supermarkets have been rationing some items so our regular donors haven't been able to contribute as much as they normally would."
Brown said foodbank staff were catering to a significant number of new clients seeking assistance since the lockdown started.
"They tell us they have never visited a food bank before and they are struggling because they have lost income.
"It has also been quite difficult for families feeding children who are eating more while they are at home."
Prior to lockdown, the Koha Shed supplied emergency food parcels to people who were unable to get to the City Mission. • Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website
Manager Sherron Sunnex said the focus has now shifted to supplying warm clothing and blankets.
"We have been unable to fundraise for food supplies since the lockdown but we can still help with other needs and we have made some non-contact deliveries to help people keep warm."
Lauren Tamehana asks that Whanganui people make a point of checking on their neighbours.
"Ring people to see if they are okay and deliver food and essential services to them if you are the designated person in your bubble who does the shopping," she says.
"Our older population are often independent people so they might not ask for help, but we want them to stay home and be safe. Ring your older whānau and friends to make sure they are okay."
To contact the EOC emergency management welfare team call 349 0001.
To contact Te Ranga Tupua Response Hub, call 0800 202 004.
People needing help with food parcels from the Whanganui City Mission should call 021 185 1210 for a phone interview before going to the centre. Donations can be left at 7 Park Pl where there are signs on the door to steer people in the right direction and instructions for keeping safe distance.