2 Sep 2021

Scarcity of food for Pasifika communities during lockdown

11:56 am on 2 September 2021

Several organisations in New Zealand supporting Pasifika families with basic necessities during alert level 4 lockdown are seeing greater numbers requesting help.

A Pasifika-led social services organisation, Pasifika Futures, said since lockdown began last month, they have handed out 12,242 packages of support through their 28 partners across Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Chief executive of Pasifika Futures and Pasifika Medical Association, Debbie Sorenson.

Photo: Supplied.

The support includes food packages, blankets, children activities and mental health support.

Its chief executive officer Debbie Sorensen said these packages are definitely more than what was handed out last year when the country was first in alert level 4 lockdown.

"This year we have spent around $4.8 million worth of funding on Pasifika families around Aotearoa.

"To put this in context, last year through all of the lockdown, we only did a little bit over 10,000 packages of support to families, so at the moment we're running at about a thousand packages a day, which is far in excess of what happened last year," Sorensen said.

The majority of the support packages have been distributed to Auckland based families.

Pasifika Futures were incredibly busy in the first week of lockdown and said that they had a backlog of families waiting for support.

"Over the weekend we worked very hard to clear that backlog, but before that families were having to wait 24 to 36 hours for help," Sorensen said.

"That's a very long time for a family to wait if they don't have the essentials and that causes distress and anxiety.

"Extremely grateful for our teams up and down the country for delivering as fast as they can to these families."

RNZ understands that the government has not called for a state of national emergency during alert level 4. Sorensen said last year in level 4, the country had declared a state of national emergency, which meant food support was available.

"This year is different, and all organisations are under pressure to provide food packages and support for families.

"We see this in the supermarkets in Auckland where some have had to close early to allow time for staff to replenish stock - even the supply chains are under pressure," she said.

Sorensen explained that because there are a high number of Pasifika people testing positive for Covid-19, which means they must self-isolate, that has led to the high demand of support for food as they cannot go to the supermarket.

"As of this week we are supporting 1354 Pasifika people who are in self-isolation and 152 people who are in quarantine," she said.

One of the 28 partners Pasifika Futures supports is the South Waikato Pacific Islands Community Services Trust.

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Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Chief executive officer Akarere Henry said they have helped 120 Pasifika families in their rural community with food vouchers, firewood and baby and children necessities.

"That is the nature of the environment we live in here in South Waikato, we are heavily dependent on being able to enforce various heating models and for us it's normally firewood.

"With the level 4 restrictions the ability to go out in the bush, to be able to get wood is limited together with finding reputable firewood merchants.

"We have seen a high demand for nappies, baby products and formula this lockdown.

"We have come across many families with children who relied on their children to go school and have the free breakfast and lunch that's on offer," Henry said.

"When those two items are taken away from the daily management and budgeting to now having everyone at home, it has added real pressure for those families."

'Lockdown is the opposite of who we [Pasifika] are'

The Society of St Vincent de Paul or St Vinnies said that three days into alert level 4 lockdown this month, they handed out 720 food parcels to families in need - majority from the Pasifika community.

General manager Delphina Soti said that increased to 1116 food parcels between the 23 to 28 August 2021 and as of this week they have distributed around 250 food parcels a day.

"This time last year we were doing 350 to 400 food parcels a week, so it has been a sharp increase since then.

"It has hit the Pasifika community harder now because they are at the centre of the outbreak.

"Pasifika families are communal, and lockdown is the opposite of who we are.

"The families survive by being in the community, in sharing, so when you go into lockdown, you can't ask the aiga [family] up the road for help, you can't go to church collective, you can't send your child to school to be supported by those free lunches.

"Psychologically it's had a huge impact on these families," she said.

McAuley High School in Ōtāhuhu, South Auckland.

Photo: Google Maps

St Vinnies have been providing support to families from McAuley High School - one of the schools that has had a few students test positive for Covid-19.

"We've been doing phone calls with the families as a follow up to connect with them after the food has been sent out.

"What we are hearing is fear - the fear of not being in control, the fear of not having enough and the fear of having to stand in those queues.

"Our Pasifika families have been encouraged to go get tested, but on top of testing for Covid-19, they're thinking of things like will they have enough petrol to wait in line.

"A lot of Pasifika families juggle looking after kids as well as their elderly parents and find this time quite hard because they're all confined in their houses," she said.

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Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Soti said they are experiencing a backlog with families waiting between 24 to 48 hours for a food parcel.

She urges who are outside St Vinnies' periphery, which is central and south Auckland to seek help from their local food banks, to help ease the pressure on volunteers and protect them from the spread of the virus.

"We prioritise families we have connected with in the past because we're about building relationships.

"We're also responding to the influx of families affected in the South Auckland area.

"Anyone isolating that is in St Vinnies periphery, they become priority and their food parcels can be distributed within 24-48 hours," Soti said.

The demand for support is expected to increase in Auckland, with alert level 4 set to last until 14 September. Cabinet will consider next steps for the region on 13 September.

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