Food for thought

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Masterton’s WaiWaste Food Rescue are working to re-distribute food destined for landfill.

Food waste items include those nearing the end of their use-by dates, damaged packaging, or cosmetic faults on the food itself.

According to the Kantar New Zealand Food Waste Survey 2022, $3.1 billion worth of edible food is ‘wasted’ each year in New Zealand.

WaiWaste coordinator, Geoff Roberts, said the team collects food waste from local supermarkets, producers and cafes.

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The staff handle several hundred kilos of food each day before distributing boxes out to community groups, serving people who need and cannot afford food.

“It’s food that’s good enough to eat, but not good enough to sell,” Roberts said.

Now entering a “post-covid phase”, Roberts noted changing trends in WaiWaste’s demand.

“We’ve got quite a high amount of food-need that was directly related to covid, and there was a lot of extra supply coming through the Food Network and through donations because people recognised that need, and now that supply is dropping back down.”

“The expectation is that we go back to something resembling normal, pre-covid.”

“The problem is that the cost of food during that time, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, has gone up substantially. So people are not in a position to go back to where they were in terms of being able to afford food.”

Roberts said the real challenge at WaiWaste is continuing to provide the same level of food supply donated through the pandemic as shelf prices have risen.

Operations coordinator Laura Garland, and a different volunteer each day, help collect produce from around the region.

WaiWaste’s largest provider of rescued food is Countdown; sourcing high quality meats and cheeses from Moore Wilsons, greens from New World, and local cafes and bakeries donate bread and sandwiches from the day before.

Once all food is at WaiWaste’s hub on Hope Street, Garland and volunteers sift through food items for dispatch.

“Nothing is wasted. All that food waste goes to compost, chickens and ducks,” Garland said.

“[We] sort the new lot of fruit and veg and then we start weighing it out and reloading the van to deliver to the FoodBank and Resource Centre and the Community Kitchen.”

Masterton FoodBank volunteer Krystal Logan said there are a variety of people who need to use a food bank; people with ongoing addiction issues, elderly, those struggling with rent costs due to the housing shortage, and people economically-disadvantaged following the pandemic .

“People that work, they’ve got jobs and they just haven’t got any buffer,” Logan said.

“So the car breaks down, the washing machine breaks down or the electricity bill goes up…they just haven’t got money for a buffer.”

Masterton FoodBank receives food donations from the public, sponsors and WaiWaste, who are able to provide them with fresh food to bulk up their boxes.

Logan said the boxes are better than they’ve ever been.

“The community has also stepped up after covid,” she said.

“We used to get a couple of thousand dollars and food and just donations from the street over covid, we got $20,000 just from the community donating that year.”

“And we’ve got regulars still that are paying every month out of their income, which is $1,000 or a couple of hundred every month in automatic payments. So the community is much more aware of the food bank.”

It’s not just the foodbank users that benefit from WaiWaste, local charities also rely heavily on their efforts.

Kingdom Kai’s Jah Matthews said 90% of the charity’s food comes from WaiWaste.

“We also give out boxes to people in poverty and people struggling, so it’s a big, big help,” he said.

Matthews wants to see more towns hosting food rescue hubs like WaiWaste.

With increasing costs of living, homelessness and food poverty, Kingdom Kai sets out to collect food from WaiWaste every Tuesday to provide cooked meals for people in need.

“We have a lot of solo mums reach out for help, they really struggle a lot… having to do activities with the kids and that,” Matthews said.

“And the homeless people fluctuate, they go up and down, and I’m expecting a whole lot more after people in emergency housing.”

“Once they close that down I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m expecting a lot more people to end up in poverty.”

WaiWaste provides food to Rangitāne o Wairarapa, distributed to those struggling to get food on the table, and regular marae feeds for tangihanga.

Rangitāne youth support worker, Benjamin Molesi, said you don’t have to be Māori to help the community.

“It’s about looking after our community,” he said.

The WaiWaste food that we get is huge…when you take the food to these people, it’s amazing just to see their faces and and just the greatness of us being able to do that.”

“Words can’t really describe what it’s like when you actually go take something over to people, especially when they don’t expect that, and it’s just given to them.”

Molesi urged families that are not struggling financially and local businesses to provide support to organisations like WaiWaste.

“There’s a lot of places out there that do chuck food away when in actual fact there are people out there that will probably eat their food.”

“I know to the businesses, it’s not that much, but to these people, it’s life changing.”

“Even if they’re able to save $20 to put $20 towards their kids, or especially at the beginning of the year, a lot of parents at this time are buying uniforms, pens and pencils and stationery. This is the time of the year where it’s needed the most because a lot of families out there are struggling.”

“At the end of the day, everything is money,  and we need to get away from that. And it’s about supporting what means a lot to our communities.”

Roberts said WaiWaste is primarily an environmental organisation focussed on sustainability.

“Our mission is really to capture food that would otherwise be destined to landfill,” he said.

“That’s a real priority for us, is to look at ways we can continue to keep food out of landfills because it breaks down and creates a lot of methane in that process.”

“Apart from the food poverty issue, that’s a big part of our work, is really trying to be the organisation that has an impact on reducing the amount of food in landfill in the Wairarapa.”

WaiWaste relies on local grants, governmental support, supermarkets, sponsorships, and an infrastructure grant from the Ministry of Social Development to set up as a food hub during the pandemic.

Now they need to find ongoing operational funding to keep up the work they’re doing.

public interest journalism ellie

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