Fighting Hunger ... ... Feeding Hope
The Challenges and the Opportunities facing Foodbank Aotearoa New Zealand and Foodbank Canterbury during and moving forward under COVID-19
Foodbank Canterbury is the food bank that serves Canterbury and beyond. FBC is part of an amazing international network of food banks under The Global Foodbanking Network. Here in Canterbury, we work in partnership and collaboration with more than 130 community-based agencies: food pantries, women’s refuges, Maraes, Plunkett, after-school programs, Iwi and Pasifika social organisations, Community housing complexes, soup kitchens, school systems etc that work with our communities throughout our region. We operate a Foodbank Hub in Timaru and supply food resources to rural Canterbury and the West Coast through the FBC Food for Hope program.
Before the pandemic we were redistributing food to resource around 140,000 meals per month.
Then came 2020.
In 2020, we experienced a disruption like never before. Every region, all our agencies and people were impacted. We looked around and saw the amount of pain and distress that was tragically so rapidly spreading across our regions. And yet in most cases, we witnessed an inspiring level of resilience and ‘let’s get through this together!’. It was a sense of Kia tu̅pore – let’s be kind.
During the height of the crisis in March, the vast majority of the local food pantries, soup kitchens, faith-based organizations, and other community groups that FBC had worked with to distribute food to the community closed temporarily. At FBC It forced us to replace our business-as-usual with a somewhat new approach grounded in innovation and possibility whilst remaining true to our Kaupapa … … we dared to believe!
As time went on, we recognized the opportunity to accelerate what we did. This meant assessing whether existing partners could expand what they offered, finding new collaborators, and when necessary, providing services directly.
At FBC we don’t see ourselves as just acting in the food sector being part of the FMCG chain, but eradicating poverty, and we needed to reach across all sectors to do that.
It happened quickly, it was dramatic, and it has stayed with us. Within weeks we were serving 120% more people than we had been serving at the start of the year … … that just gives an idea of how rapidly the need increased.
As a result, our operations have had to increase significantly and rapidly. It felt like we had to turn and figure out how to navigate an unknown and complex situation while scaling our business in ways that we’d never really even imagined that we would need to.
During the year, Foodbank sourced almost 950,000 kilograms of food and related product via both donations from the food and grocery sector, farmers, and the purchase of key staple items, all thanks to funding from our generous funders, corporate partners, and individuals. This record volume equated to 2.63 million meals in the communities we serve – an increase of nearly 69 percent on 2019 and enabling FBC to generate a social return on its activities worth $21.2 million!
And yet, it’s sad for us to watch on TV that there are kids and parents sleeping in their cars. It is heart-breaking.
All of that has provided a lot of lessons, and truthfully, I think it’s going to take us a long time to learn all those lessons but addressing the underlying drivers of food insecurity requires to go a step further. We have seen a shift in our ‘need audience’. We are daily being confronted by people who have never asked for help before. Despite the fact that the economic fallout of the pandemic extends to every part of the socio-economic strata, it disproportionately affects underrepresented people, so we need to seek this element so that we can start to strengthen relationships with these hard-hit communities within our service areas. Unfortunately, because we have a lack of vital statistics in this area in New Zealand, finding these people is no easy task. People tend to keep their hunger and need close to themselves – it’s a dignity thing and very Kiwi.
One of the pandemic lessons is that we can never be totally prepared for what’s to come and yet 2020 also proved how resilient, flexible, and adaptable Foodbank Canterbury was in the face of enormous challenge. Yet there is so much more to do.
Despite the New Zealand economy being far better than was originally expected last year, we are seeing more need – a need that is now moving mainstream.
What does this mean for Foodbank Canterbury and food relief in general