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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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‘Our workload is astronomical’

To help it through an increased workload, the Masterton Food Bank needs some new additions to its team. From left: Fiona Gibson, Ruth Galloway, Gary Bainbridge, Jenna Matchett (food bank manager), and Pam Horncy. PHOTO/ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

Covid pressures keep team awake at night

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
[email protected]

With covid-19 still on the rampage, and living costs skyrocketing, the Masterton Food Bank is appealing to the community for help as it grapples with an “astronomical” workload.

Food bank manager Jenna Matchett said the organisation is dealing with unprecedented demand, as Wairarapa families are faced with rising housing, petrol, and food costs.

Adding to the pressure on the organisation is the omicron outbreak – with many of its volunteers falling ill or isolating at home.

Though the food bank is still receiving a steady supply of donations, the demand is straining its workforce – so its committee and management are calling for locals to step up as volunteers.

To sustain it through this difficult period, Matchett said the food bank needs to add at least 10 more workers to its line-up – to assist with administrative tasks, sorting through donations, restocking shelves, and packing food parcels.

Matchett said the organisation’s volume of work has dramatically increased over the past two years: with people from all walks of life, including those in full-time work and on regular incomes, struggling to afford food and household supplies.

In February, the food bank distributed 548 food parcels – a 95 per cent increase from the 280 distributed in February 2020, just before the first national lockdown.

With more and more people “feeling the pinch”, Matchett said it was vital the food bank was open and available to “everyone in the community”.

“We don’t want to turn anyone away. But if we want to keep our doors open, we need all hands on deck.

“The need in the community is huge – and our workload is astronomical.

“It’s not the same demographics of people needing our help. It’s no longer just beneficiaries – it’s pretty much everyone.

“We need more volunteers – we needed them yesterday.”

Matchett said the food bank has certainly been busier during covid – with employment and businesses affected by lockdowns and home isolation rules.

However, she anticipates food insecurity will continue beyond the pandemic, thanks to slowly recovering supply chains and the war in Europe.

“If covid goes away tomorrow, we’re not going to go back to normal overnight.

“The societal problems will still be there – house prices, fuel costs, expensive groceries. These financial struggles are running deeper and deeper into mainstream society.”

She said a wide range of people are seeking help from the food bank – including those turning to social services for the first time.

“We’re hearing from everyone: families, grandparents raising their grandchildren, retired people, disabled people, people working full time jobs.

“It’s not up to us to judge why people can’t afford their weekly shop. When you’re struggling, you have to weigh things up: do I take my kids to the doctor, or do I feed them? It’s a s***ty decision to have to make.

“I think the one good thing that’s come out of this is there’s much less stigma around using a food bank. Anyone – your mum, your neighbour, your best mate – can fall on hard times and need a hand.”

As well as the strain on her volunteers, adding to Matchett’s anxiety is the disruption to grocery supply chains – meaning the food bank has, at times, had big gaps on its shelves.

The food bank receives funding to purchase items from the supermarket – but some of the staples simply haven’t been available.

“We can’t just go to the supermarket and buy 700 cans of tuna.

“The supermarkets bend over backwards to help us where they can – but they have a limited ability to purchase at the moment.

“If it’s not there for us to buy, there’s nothing we can do.

“It keeps me awake at night. People are relying on us to have enough food – and that’s a weight I’m carrying on my shoulders.”

PHOTO/FILE

Matchett and her team are heartened by the support they continue to receive from the community, including from organisations such as Waiwaste Food Rescue, Wairarapa Community Centre Trust’s community kitchen, and the Salvation Army.

Despite their own financial struggles, Matchett said people are still dropping off their donations – from fruit and vegetables, to cleaning supplies, to personal care items.

“For example, we have a local podiatrist who brings us about 100 boxes of sanitary products every week.

“She doesn’t expect a pat on the back or anything in return – she just wants to help.

“Even in these difficult times, people are giving what they can. It’s very humbling.”

Matchett was full of praise for her volunteers, who are coping by keeping a “cool head” and a positive attitude.

“Our volunteers do go home tired – but they have a lot of job satisfaction and feel they’re using their time well.”

If you would like to volunteer with the Masterton Foodbank, contact Jenna Matchett on [06] 370-8034, or email [email protected].

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