SVDP acts to meet soaring food demand


The Society of St Vincent de Paul in Auckland has geared up to meet a soaring demand for food parcels from stressed households during the lockdown. 

SVDP Auckland general manager Delphina Soti told NZ Catholic that, as of April 8, the society had established 12 Vinnies foodbank “satellites” servicing families from Hibiscus Coast through to Pukekohe. The society’s Newton foodbank had to close to the public because of lockdown restrictions. 

Ms Soti said that more than 1016 families had been given food boxes up to April 8. Each box is valued at $90 and the aim is that one box will feed a family of four over five days. 

“With bigger families, we add extra boxes,” Ms Soti said. The boxes are dropped off at people’s houses. 

The “satellites” operate out of the homes of volunteers, which have been equipped with chillers and freezers for bulk meat, dairy and fresh produce, Ms Soti said. Bulk stock is dropped off to the satellites from a central base. 

Most satellites can stock up to 50 family food boxes at any one time. 

Ms Soti said that dozens of volunteers, mainly young Vinnies, have come on-board to help with this work. The operation started with six staff and two volunteers and had grown to a volunteer base of around 42 people, mainly young people, by April 8.  

Running the whole operation is quite complex, Ms Soti said. 

“Each of these satellites also comes complete with strict health and safety protocols and processes.  

“A coordinator is assigned to each of these satellites, and they liaise with the main hub of team leaders who receive the calls and emails from family members and social services providers seeking assistance.  

“There is now a triage team of three who carry out phone assessments and make referrals to professional social service providers. There is also a team dedicated to stock and logistics, a communications team, satellite drivers who deliver the food and even a face-to-face team who connect in with family members who have sought food assistance and have requested someone to check up on them.” 

Being designated as an essential service has been a huge help, Ms Soti said. This has allowed the service to grow its operation legally and has also facilitated necessary travel by staff and volunteers, as well as providing recognition by the community and by larger providers of foodbank services in Auckland.    

While there are challenging aspects of this work – such as health and safety management, information processing and the volume of requests – “for many who are working and volunteering, there is a deep sense of purpose and gratitude to be able to do this work”.  

“It hasn’t been hard to keep going, it is an exciting time. These young volunteers would prefer to be out working with their friends assisting families rather than sitting at home,” Ms Soti said. 

“Most evenings when the mahi [work] has been done, these young people gather on zoom to pray, debrief and share their experiences and talk about their faith.  

“There is a real sense of being called to this work together as a community. The comradeship, the sharing of skills, the allowing of everyone to bring their gift to the table to assist those in need of support is inspirational and fulfilling.” 

But Ms Soti said there are some concerns going forward, as the society’s foodbank in Auckland has used up its winter stock already. Needs usually peak in winter and, given the number of people who have lost jobs, the demand will be greater.  

“We worry that we may not be able to support most of these vulnerable families adequately.” 

And with Covid-19-related restrictions in force, the society is unable to run its op-shop, which is its usual source of income. The society has had to buy in supplies to keep up with demand. 

Help has been forthcoming so far from various quarters, including a grant for $20,000 from the Auckland diocese Catholic Caring Foundation, as well as other “generous donations” that have come through the Vinnies Feed A Family during Covid-19 Appeal.  

Ms Soti said there are also the daily bulk donations of perishable goods from Kiwi Harvest and the Auckland City Mission. Funds have also come from various Auckland SVDP councils. 

Donations of funds, supermarket vouchers and bulk food supplies are welcome.  

BANK ACCOUNT DETAILS. Soc of St Vincent De Paul AK 12-3017-0500224-00.

Any enquiries can go to [email protected] 

Church agencies lend a hand

  • As of March 31, the Wellington Vinnies had experienced a 380 per cent increase in people accessing food support in the first week of the lockdown. They are doing similar essential food delivery work as the Auckland Vinnies. 
  • The Compassion Soup Kitchen in Wellington has closed its communal dining area, but it is an essential service and is handing out meals at its door. It has changed from serving two meals a day in favour of one larger meal each day. As of March 31, the number of people accessing its services had doubled from the number before the lockdown. 
  • Catholic Social Services in Auckland had responded to 15 families/individuals, out of the Ponsonby and Otara offices, as of April 6. These came from a number of sources – new referrals from Police Family Harm, parishes, St Vincent de Paul, Marist College and also contact from existing clients. CSS is also assisting St Vincent de Paul in the delivery of some food parcels. Counselling services continue via phone counselling.  
  • As of April 6, the Catholic Caring Foundation in Auckland had raised $84,370, plus an additional $10,000 from the Tindall Foundation. The income will provide critical funding to help people under pressure in the coming weeks and months.
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Michael Otto

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