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Thousands struggle with food poverty

More than 9 per cent of Wairarapa’s residents – and more than 10 per cent of Masterton’s – are living hand to mouth and need a handout to put food on the table, SUE TEODORO reports.

Thousands across the region are now dependent on local foodbanks to help make ends meet every month, with numbers set to rise.

More than 4000 people got food from foodbanks in Featherston, Martinborough, Carterton, and Masterton last month, with coordinators saying demand isn’t abating.

The total number receiving food parcels was 4341 out of an estimated permanent Wairarapa population of about 47,000 – meaning more than nine per cent of the region’s residents are experiencing a level of food poverty.

The majority needing help was in Masterton, at 2826, with Martinborough next at 890, Featherston at 375, and Carterton at about 250.

Greytown does not have a dedicated foodbank at present, but residents can contact the foodbank operators in Featherston and Martinborough if they need help.

Jenna Matchett is the manager of the Masterton Foodbank and runs the facility day-to-day. She said demand was high and increasing monthly, with many food recipients in full-time employment. During March, 681 food parcels were distributed.

“It’s getting out of control,” she said.

In February, 2527 had used the facility; in January, it was 2236.

Matchett said while covid created a situation of temporary hardship, the current situation was a “new type of normal”.

“The social environment has altered permanently. Now, people who used to have a financial buffer don’t have it anymore. People are coming into the foodbank who have fulltime jobs,” Matchett said.

“We have midwives, nurses, teachers, emergency service workers, and government workers. People who are working a 40 or 50-hour week, and still can’t afford food.”

Matchett described the situation as ‘infuriating’, saying government financial help had not stopped the problem from getting worse.

“Money won’t fix the problem. Something fundamental has to change,” she said.

“It’s everything – the price of food, fuel, clothing and medical and dental needs.

“It’s not only beneficiaries coming to the foodbank anymore. What’s going on?” she asked.

Matchett said the Masterton foodbank was not the only community focussed organisation providing those in need with food, with Iwi, homeless shelters, churches, and eldercare agencies – among others – helping out as well.

“Masterton has the same problems as the smaller towns, just on a bigger scale,” she said.

“I feel like we are just going round and round in circles. If we want to actually fix the problem, we haven’t even started.”

Matchett’s observations are echoed by foodbank coordinators across the region.

A spokesperson for the Featherston facility – which also services Greytown – described the exponential growth in demand.

“We have seen staggering growth in need over the past 18 months,” he said.

During March, 63 households in Featherston had received 125 food parcels, representing 230 adults and 145 children. By comparison, in March 2021, 39 food parcels had been distributed to 26 households containing 69 adults and 61 children. March 2022 had been an outlier month, with distribution numbers skewed by the school term starting.

In Martinborough, a total of 890 people received help, of which 560 were adults, and 330 were children. Food parcels distributed in the town were 231.

The trend is similar in Carterton, where John Vallely coordinates the foodbank.

During March, 65 food parcels were distributed, representing about 250 individuals, with – on average – about four people benefiting from each parcel. Vallely said last year, many recipients had been affected by covid, but this year new names appeared on the list.

“The trend over the past three years is we saw an increase in numbers with covid, and it has stayed at that level even though the covid numbers have dropped,” he said.

Parcels in Carterton generally consist of staples like breakfast cereal and tinned fruit, bread, spreads, milk, eggs [when available], baked beans, tinned soups, and sufficient meat and vegetables for a main meal.

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