West Coast lockdown hotline: food shortages most common concern

5:43 pm on 10 June 2020

Running out of food during the Covid-19 lockdown was the reason most Coasters called the Civil Defence hotline for help, it has emerged.

Open food parcel

A helpline on the West Coast received more than 300 requests for help during lockdown, with most callers seeking food parcels. Photo: RNZ Insight / Sarah Robson

West Coast Emergency Management director Claire Brown briefed the regional council yesterday on the work done over the lockdown by staff working at the Emergency Control Centre (ECC).

The base in Greymouth's Westland Recreation Centre was 'stood up' by order of central government at the outset of the national emergency.

While councils in Buller and Westland had staff on deck throughout the lockdown to manage emergency needs in their areas, the ECC had played a co-ordinating role, and the regional hotline had taken 336 calls for help over the 66 days of lockdown, Brown said.

"As of last Thursday, there were 80 calls from Buller, 221 from Grey and 35 from Westland."

The majority of the calls had been from people desperate for food and supplies, she told the Greymouth Star after the meeting.

"There were a whole range of people needing food support; some were in that vulnerable age group and couldn't leave home to go to the supermarket; others had mobility issues and couldn't get out and some didn't have internet to order stuff online."

The ECC had responded to about half the calls by alerting community groups including the Salvation Army to help out and had tapped into a national emergency fund to top up those groups when they were running short, Brown said.

"We also arranged grocery deliveries directly for a lot of people, from the Bidfood food service."

The ECC had now been scaled down to about two staff, and most of the office furniture and other resources returned to the councils which had lent them, she said.

"But we have to be able to scale up again quickly if we go back to higher alert levels - so some emergency management staff will relocate there for the coming months, to keep a presence there and continue monitoring."

A unique emergency

The pandemic had been an emergency unlike any other experienced before on the Coast, Brown said.

"We have learned a huge amount from this, especially about the amazing work done in our communities by volunteers, and the way they swing into action when there is a crisis."

But that did not make the ECC redundant, she said.

"We would be able to connect with these groups much more quickly in a future event and we would have a much better appreciation of what they do.

"But also we would be able to co-ordinate the response better across the region, just knowing who does what, and where."

West Coast rural communities were very resilient, but it could not be assumed they always had the resources to cope, Brown said.

"It would be dangerous to assume people will always cope. In this case the government threw together a number of funds very quickly and one of the functions of the ECC is to connect communities with those funds and make sure they can tap into them as needed."

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