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Hungry for food bank funding

The government has announced a further funding boost of $6 million for food banks, but it’s unclear if Wairarapa will see any of it.

The funding is in response to the current cost of living crisis, and priority will be given to those food banks operating in “high demand regions such as Auckland, Tairawhiti and Hawke’s Bay”.

Having been fielding increased demand all year, Masterton food bank manager Jenna Matchett is concerned by this announcement.

“Wairarapa has been left out of that round of funding, and I don’t understand why,” Matchett said.

“It’s a bit of a kick.”

If regions impacted by cyclone damage are to be prioritised, Matchett said she finds it hard to believe the $6 million will stretch far enough to support other areas.

“It’s a vicious cycle, and when we’re getting left out of things like the $6 million – it’s a bitter pill.”

While Wairarapa wasn’t as badly damaged by Cyclone Gabrielle and extreme flooding as Gisbourne or Hawke’s Bay, Matchett said there is still a significant need for support here.

“Our area isn’t getting the recognition it needs for the support that it needs. What about the parts of Wairarapa that were hit really hard by the cyclone?” Matchett asked.

“Tīnui, Castlepoint, and Riversdale – they actually suffered quite badly out there, and I know our food bank, and so many other agencies, have been supporting so many people out there.”

The Times-Age reported in April that more than 9 per cent of Wairarapa’s residents were relying on local food banks for support at the time.

Matchett said there’s additional concern about increased demand due to the fuel subsidy being lifted, which she predicts will have a “massive impact”.

“The flow-on effect of something like that on food banks is massive because it increases everything,” Matchett said.

“Not just the price of food, but getting stuff from A to B. Every household is affected by that.”

Wairarapa’s land area compared to a comparatively small population means travel costs are huge, which means Matchett is expecting more people needing food bank support.

“Whenever anything like this happens, there’s a lag of a week or two, then we get smashed.”

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said the petrol excise cuts were always temporary and had already been extended a number of times.

“We have seen over $1.4 billion invested to support families when petrol prices spiked, and we have now put in place other supports like free and half-price public transport,” McAnulty said.

“It should also be remembered that petrol excise revenue helps pay for our roads, so a restoration of that funding will provide significant benefits to the community.”

McAnulty said demand for food support, particularly in communities impacted by the extreme weather events, remains higher than it was prior to covid-19.

“This boost in funding for community food banks aims to help them continue their work during this period of high demand.”

All Ministry of Social Development contracted food providers will be able to apply for funding from the $6 million, McAnulty believed.

“I understand MSD has organised a forum with providers in regions including Wairarapa next week to discuss the funding and process.”

As of Monday, however, neither Matchett nor Martinborough food bank volunteer May Croft had any knowledge of such forums being scheduled.

Croft said that while she understands there is an extremely high need in cyclone-affected areas, it doesn’t cancel out the need in Wairarapa.

“It’s really the $6 million dollar extra boost to food banks in the cyclone-affected places,” Croft said.

“Giving that money to the cyclone-affected areas doesn’t take away how other areas funding too.”

Like Matchett, Croft is seeing increasingly high numbers of people still needing support and said it isn’t just beneficiaries who are turning up.

“We think that people not being able to buy food, it’s not going away,” Croft said.

“Today, a lot of the people coming to the food bank, they cook and they work, and still can’t make ends meet.”

Croft acknowledged that such funding decisions are tough, but also said she is hoping for a clearer indication of where Wairarapa food banks stand.

“It’s often smoke and mirrors,” said Croft.

“They’re vague in how they explain things so you’re desperately trying to work out what it is.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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