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Ross relishing food rescue role

On the day Midweek visited WaiWaste Food Rescue’s headquarters on Masterton’s Hope St, it was all hands on deck.

One of the food rescue agency’s two electric vans had just returned from a regular pick-up from Pak n Save, and its roomy interior was stacked to the roof with crates of bread, vegetables, fruit, and boxes and boxes of eggs.

General manager Vic Ross, operations manager Laura Garland and volunteers Nick, Kathy, Gary and Robert moved swiftly from the vehicle to the central sorting table like a well-oiled machine, grouping produce and checking use-by dates.

“This is a lot of food. All our donors are fantastic,” Ross said, shuttling between van and table, hefting crates, “And it’s great – a lot of food a great problem to have.”

WaiWaste was established in 2013 with a mission to “feed people, not landfills”.

According to its website, it has since rescued 432,697kg of food from the dump, helping to provide well over 1 million meals.

Last year alone, more than 150,000kg of kai was sent out by WaiWaste to its recipient agencies.

WaiWaste receives food for distribution from the New Zealand Food Network [NZFN], local supermarkets, farmers, businesses and individuals in the community.

It then distributes that food to hungry whānau via its local partner groups and organisations across Wairarapa, Ross explained.

“We are kind of like the ‘wholesale’ arm in the system, not a retailer’” she said.

Recipient agencies include all seven of the region’s food banks and 30 other community and social organisations, such as the Red Cross, the Wairarapa Community Kitchen, Yellow Brick Road, The Ruth Project, and most recently, Good Bitches Baking [GBB].

In her fluoro orange vest, organising the latest batch of rescued bounty, Ross is in her element.

But, managing the food charity is a recent career move for Ross – who, for the past four years, was Greytown Primary School’s librarian, had trained in theatre and make-up, and worked stints in the advertising industry.

“At the end of last year, I saw this job in the paper, and I said to myself, ‘That’s my job’. And luckily, the WaiWaste board agreed with me,” Ross said.

The variety of the role and its call for a creative approach to problem-solving suits her.

“I need to be busy to keep my brain active,” she said. “And I love the busyness. You never know what’s going to happen day-to-day. There’s always a curveball or a challenge.

“Every day, Laura, our ops manager, and I are like, ‘Right, what are we going to do about this or that?’, and it’s great.”

Matching donated food to recipients is something of an art form, and “actually the really fun part, thinking about what’s come in and where it can go”.

A recent example was pairing up GBB with several cans of catering-size condensed milk, which made the local GBB coordinator feel “like a hero”, Ross said.

No food goes to waste at WaiWaste, Ross explained. “We will always find a home for it.”

In fact, nothing seems to go to waste at WaiWaste – even soft plastic packaging from donated produce gets washed and recycled.

Ross, who has now been in post just over two months, is relishing her role – and has plans to build the organisation’s network of food donors within the community and grow the volunteer team from its current number of about 20.

“We really appreciate our volunteers,” she said. “They are a great bunch, and we always have a bit of a laugh.

“They work so hard, and we couldn’t do this without them.”

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