8 Mar 2021

Food waste charities better prepared for lockdowns

From First Up, 5:46 am on 8 March 2021

Auckland food waste charities say whilst they are better prepared for lockdowns it's bittersweet taking goods from businesses going to the wall because of Covid-19.

Volunteers with donation box with foodstuffs on grey background - food bank, foodbank

Photo: 123rf

When Auckland went to alert level 3 on Sunday 28 February with less than nine hours' notice, many in hospitality were left with perishables they could no longer sell. 

And while much was thrown away or donated to food charities, some businesses were emptying out for good.

Beck Lane runs the Point Wells General Store, about an hour's drive north of Auckland CBD and just inside the region's alert level 3 cordon.

When the Auckland snap lockdown was announced late on 27 February, she was left with a cancelled event for the next day and kilos and kilos of leftover fish. 

"So we did a free fish and chips day, it was great, it was fun, I take real issue with having to throw fish out to be honest so the best option was to treat the community." 

The event started at 1pm and by 3pm the fish was gone but Beck said although it was a great community event, she couldn't afford to shoulder the cost again.

She said wasn't the only one in the food and hospitality industry in Auckland feeling the strain.

Nick Looseley runs Everybody Eats, a series of community restaurants where the menu is made up from food that would usually go to waste. 

He said while they couldn't operate in level 3, he was still being offered food waste from affected businesses. 

While some could be frozen and made into soups later on, perishable food was passed on again to the Auckland City Mission. 

Things are different from last year's March lockdown, he said.

"When we first went into lockdown, we were in this difficult situation where we weren't really sure how to react, so we weren't really sure whether we should do takeaways, we weren't really sure whether we should continue to receive food and then pass it on to people. 

"But what we realised is that actually doing takeaways is really challenging for us and also challenging for our customers and also all that happens is the food that we were going to receive just in ends up getting passed on to other charities or other organisations and the work they do is better suited to a lockdown, whereas we cook food and bring people together which is the worst thing for Covid." 

Fair Food is an Auckland food rescue charity that provides supplementary fresh food for those in need.  

Director Veronica Shale said that staff were working extra hard as level 3 meant they couldn't have volunteers, which cut their workforce by 80 percent. 

She said although businesses have learned since last year how to pivot and hold on to stock, they were seeing food coming from some venues that have had to close their doors for good because of the effects of the pandemic. 

"This is probably tipping some people over the edge now, I think there's just this sense of fatigue and this is hard for businesses to hold on, we're probably waiting for those calls.

"The last lockdown, a couple of weeks ago, we had two pallets of fresh beautiful produce turn up which was amazing and the community loved it but at the other end of the scale you feel for hospitality and you feel for the restaurant trade." 

At the same time the number of people going to FairFood for assistance from organisations like the Salvation Army, Women's Refuge and budgeting services was on the rise. 

One of the organisations seeing the rise first hand was the Auckland City Mission.

City Missioner Chris Farrelly said the change since last year was hard to ignore. 

"Roughly a million people in New Zealand are food insecure," he said, "That means they cannot afford week on week to put nutritious, good, appropriate food on the table for themselves and their families. 

"They have to resort to something else. So this is what's hit us and all the other food providers and food banks in our country at the moment, that level of food insecurity, and it gets even tighter during a lockdown period." 

Farrelly said many families seek out food banks in difficult times, such as a lockdown in order to meet rent payments. 

"The maraes [sic] in Auckland are now becoming major distributors of food. 

"We move food to them and they move it out to their community and there's some amazing networks starting to emerge that will be able to move food out really quickly to those who need it and those systems are being put in place literally as we speak." 

Businesses will find out later this week if Auckland will move to alert level 1 in time for the weekend.