Filling Bellies – Not Landfills

November 13, 2019

Victor Davies from at Waitakere Community Outreach

Each year West Auckland organisation Fair Food rescues and redistributes hundreds of tonnes of perfectly safe food, redirecting it from landfills and into hungry bellies. One of its grateful recipient organisations is the food bank at Waitakere Community Outreach, working in an area where ‘poverty is very real’.

There’s a wall at the Waitakere Community Outreach that’s covered in letters from people grateful for the food they’ve received. It’s feedback Victor Davies, the organisation’s food bank coordinator, hears with every delivery, but it’s still lovely to see in writing. 

‘Here’s one from a lady who was sitting in a boarding house eating week-old chicken nuggets because that’s all she had before her food parcel arrived. And this is from a single mum with two kids living in a caravan park, with nowhere else to live. Here’s another single mum – three kids this time – who couldn’t send her kids to school because she had no money to buy them breakfast. We helped her with a food parcel.

‘Here’s a letter from a man who’d been in a car crash 18 months before and suffered a brain injury. When I delivered his food parcel, he cried. I cried too and gave him a hug. This gives me the passion to do what I do.’ 

Which is something Victor has been doing, full time, for 22 years. ‘It feels like five minutes,’ he chuckles. The foodbank has now been operating for three decades, delivering around 2000 food parcels a year, or about 40 a week. Recipients are referred from social agencies and each family can receive a maximum of one food parcel every three months.

Heather Tribe is a driver and ‘general fire extinguisher’ at Fair Food, a food rescue organisation operating in West Auckland. With the mantra ‘We feed people, not landfill’, each day the organisation picks up hundreds of kilos of perfectly good fresh food that would otherwise have been biffed, redistributing it directly to more than 50 organisations, like Victor’s, around West Auckland. 

‘It’s very heartwarming to be here,’ says Heather, herself reading the letters. She’s popped in to make sure Victor is getting what he and his recipients need. 

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Fair Food began operating in West Auckland in 2012 and since then has saved around 400,000kg of fresh food and delivered more than 1.2 million meals. Working with various food partners, including Countdown and Farro Fresh, their rescued haul is usually day-old bread, vegetables, fruit and meat that’s still perfectly safe but hasn’t sold, and products with damaged packaging.

‘It’s heart-breaking to see the amount of food that would otherwise have gone to waste. I might pick up 200kg from one store, but I’ve got a number of other stores to visit that day. You start thinking about our whole food system and the immense scale of the problem. It can be overwhelming.’ says Heather, who studied environmental science before switching to peace and conflict studies – interests that drew her to work at Fair Food, as did her childhood connection with the area. 

‘I grew up in Waitakere, so I’ve always seen need here, seen the inequality. A significant portion of our population doesn’t meet the breadline and lives in poverty. I remember as a child, when visiting a friend, sometimes there just wasn’t food for us to eat. Kids came to school without shoes, without lunch, and couldn’t focus. I see that cycle continuing. It’s devastating.

‘Fun fact – Lincoln road, one the main roads here, has the highest proportion of takeaway outlets of any street in New Zealand. That’s symbolic of the food people can afford to eat – high calorie, low nutrition food. Poverty is real. 

‘But I love the power food has always had in bringing people together, so when I feel overwhelmed about what’s in front of me, I think about the faces of the people lighting up when they receive the food and then bonding over a warm meal. 

This is something that’s within my power to do. And we’re helping protect the environment, so it’s a win-win.’

Victor also loves the ability to bring a little light and nourishment into his community, especially because the donations from Fair Food means they can offer more than just tinned and packaged food. ‘We can now include meat into our food parcels, which is a real luxury around here. We don’t just drop the food off and leave, we have a little chat. They’re just so happy the food is for them.’ 

But Victor is well aware that many people in need in the community feel ashamed asking for help. ‘This is about giving, not taking. I would love people to feel they could be more open to asking for support when they need it. I also wish society was more open to helping people in need. We’ve lost that sense of community. But we must be open to asking for help and open to helping one another. At some stage in our lives we all struggle and need support.’

And from experience, both Victor and Heather know support is there and it’s gratefully received. ‘There’s so much joy in helping people less fortunate than yourself,’ says Victor. ‘I try to keep a low profile around Waitakere but when I’m walking around someone will often come up and say, ”Thank you for the help you give me with the food parcel”. The buzz my heart gets from that is indescribable.’

– Words by Lee-Anne Duncan. Images by Tobias Kraus.

Food banks such as Waitakere Community Outreach’s food bank can only help their community with the support of One Percent charitable organisations like Fair Food. Support Fair Food to support their community – and rescue food from landfill – through a regular donation below.

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