21 Apr 2020

Foodbanks running dry under Covid-19 lockdown

From Checkpoint, 5:52 pm on 21 April 2020

What happens when your local food bank runs out of food?

That was almost the case for the Masterton Foodbank whose supplies ran dry after seeing a three-fold increase in demand late last week.

Local supermarkets and other donors came to the rescue, but already those supplies are being carried out by the box-load.

There are no active cases of Covid-19 in the district, but many are struggling with a halt in employment or separation from loved ones. 

The food bank's co-ordinator, Lyn Tankersley said it had been a "real education".

"We've been rushed off our feet but we are getting there, we've had 10 times more food parcels than we usually do."

She and a small team of volunteers were stacking, packing, and giving out box after box.

"Instead of just packing one parcel at a time we now do more of a conveyor belt thing where you do 10 at a time, so you're packing more parcels at a time. We have them prepacked so we just need to put a label on."

She also said they had changed things so nobody was coming into the food bank. The parcels instead were taken to a table out front.

They usually give out 30 food boxes a week, but on Friday alone they gave out 90 boxes of food - and for this little food bank it was almost too much.

Lyn said the shelves were empty. 

"I was panicking a bit because we had the weekend to fill up and we did manage to but to get food in for Monday was a bit of a concern."

That new stock is already flying out of the door.

'Food just can't rescue itself'

In Auckland, Fair Food has been working overtime to save fresh produce, hundreds of loaves, pallets of frozen chicken, tomatoes, onions and potatoes from going to the landfill.

Veronica Shale from FairFood said they rescued food from supermarkets, manufacturers and other food producers. 

"We're a mobile service. So we're pretty lean, and we're pretty nimble, and we distribute it that day to over 50 organisations throughout Auckland ranging from women's refuge to teen parenting groups to food banks to the Salvation Army to the Mission."

Food waste organisations are classified as an essential service but government restrictions mean the Fair Food team has gone from having a team of 70 volunteers to just a small number of full-time staff. 

Shale says the staff have stepped up massively but it was not sustainable and has often meant staff working weekends and borrowing trucks off volunteers to enable them to collect food they are being offered.
"Where we have rescued it has been a real mix of products and of quality. So, unfortunately, that's had to go to the pigs, which is still a great place for it to go rather than landfill. But it's not been as good products as we've had in the past."

However, the amount of waste food to be rescued has increased, she said.

"We've had to source extra containers, chiller containers, and that's been a little bit tricky. Containers aren't available because some of them have unfortunately been seconded as makeshift morgues, but we have been lucky enough to find and extend our chilling space."

Shale said what the government and Auckland Council were doing was amazing, and that the food rescued by Fair Food and other food waste organisations was a fresh addition to the dry goods and cupboard items being given out in welfare packages.

Despite being an essential service, Fair Food isn't covered by a lot of government funding programmes. 

"There's no staff subsidy as such, and our workforce was mostly volunteers. So how do you compensate for that generosity and that skill and that knowledge and just that physical mental power? And food just can't rescue itself, you kind of need some help," Shale said. 

Fair Food has saved almost 400,000kg of food and delivered more than a million meals to needy New Zealanders since it was founded in 2012. 

It has also saved 2.3 million kg of waste from going to landfill.