24 Apr 2020

Ōtara volunteers work hard to get food to vulnerable

From Checkpoint, 5:28 pm on 24 April 2020

The Covid-19 lockdown has been hard on everyone, but few have felt the pressure more keenly than the people of Ōtara.

When the virus hit New Zealand, Ōtara local, Swanie Nelson knew something had to be done.

So, with a team of residents, and support from local trusts, businesses and Auckland Council, Nelson got to work.
Since lockdown began, the team in Ōtara have worked hard to make essential care packages, filled with bread, fruit, meat and vegetables for those who need it most.

"Many here were already struggling financially, so this has really put a huge magnifying glass on that situation and it's made it even harder for them," said Mrs Nelson.
In the past three weeks Auckland Council said it had received more than 13,500 requests for food parcel assistance.

Since Tuesday it had dispatched more than 7000 food parcels, with a further 5000 expected to be sent out next week.

The top four areas requesting help were Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, Manurewa, Ōtara-Papatoetoe and Henderson-Massey.
Nelson said her team could average about 120 requests a day from various members of the community struggling to put food on the table.

However the focus for Thursday was on delivering hygiene products and treats for more than 100 senior citizens, some who were worried to leave their homes for fear of getting sick.
"I mean, when we think of essential needs, you know, people automatically have an assumption of what that is, but for some people, when you're in isolation and when you're in isolation alone, which many of our seniors are, that essential need could actually be a treat that perks them up."  

Nelson said it was impossible for her team to help everyone, but they were doing their best with the resources they had.
For resident and volunteer Poto, the effort being made was a testament to the spirit of Ōtara.

He said that the community had got behind what the team were doing, including smaller businesses.

"When you live in Ōtara and look out what's happening here, if it wasn't for the help of everyone here and the rest of the community that hopped in...and all the donations we were getting from the dairy," he said.

"We go to the dairy, he give us a lot of kai, milk and all that. That's what it is."  

One of the people who recieved a care package was Pat Taka, who has lived in Ōtara for 57 years.

She said it was marvellous what the team had done, and it meant that she hadn't had to venture out for the duration of the lockdown.

"The people come round here and when they come they and give it they all smile... walking round the villiage and smiling at us and talking to us," she said.
But the team said they were the ones who got the real joy, knowing that what they were doing was making a difference.
Team member Scott Tulua said that has been a real blessing.

He said in one case, an elderly woman had not realised what was happening, and was shaking when he walked up to the door.

But Tulua said that when the woman realised he had bought her food, the lady began praising the lord and thanking him for what he had done.  

On top of the senior food drops, the Ōtara team were also dropping off between 200 and 300 care packages to street leaders and families in the wider community.
It was a big workload, the team said, but it was all worth it to know they were helping their neighbours.