A Day in the Life of a Foodbank (During a Pandemic)
It’s just after 9am, and the foodbank team at Waitakere Salvation Army are in their morning huddle. Operations manager Jason Dilger is going through today’s job schedule—which includes delivering 127 food parcels around West Auckland.
New Zealand may be out of lockdown, but those most affected are not out of crisis. Every day, foodbanks continue to be inundated with requests for help.
The Salvation Army has pulled together welfare assessors throughout the country, to answer the thousands of text and phone requests coming in. From their assessments, clients needing a food parcel are added to the job schedule at their local hub.
With demand so high, managing the supply chain has been a constant challenge during the past two months. Supermarkets struggled to keep up with demand, causing a knock-on effect for foodbanks. As soon as a delivery of food came in and filled the shelves, it was quickly packed into food parcels and went out again to literally hundreds of families. Leaving empty shelves again by the end of the day.
Timing is everything, explains Jason. ‘Obviously with food, it’s very timely that we shift it quickly, especially with fresh food, which is important to incorporate in our food parcels. We’ve had pallet fulls of food, and you just power through it with the numbers we’re doing.’
The Waitakere hub normally expects to give out between 150-200 food parcels a month. Currently, it’s doing that in less than two days.
This morning, the team is anxiously waiting for a delivery from Countdown. They breathe a sigh of relief when the truck pulls up just after 9am, and the warehouse team immediately gets stuck in unloading pallets of groceries.
Since lockdown, the overwhelming number of grocery donations have come from online orders through The Foodbank Project. The incredible upsurge in donations has been a lifeline. It has literally made the difference between empty and full shelves—and between families eating or not eating.
The drivers for today’s food parcels arrive at 10am. They are each assigned suburbs, and the food parcels are loaded into vans to be delivered to individual addresses. Social distancing is still very much top-of-mind, so the parcels are left on the door, with a knock and a friendly wave from the driver, as they move on to the next delivery.
Back at the hub, it’s mid-morning - and the foodbank team are already stuck in, packing food parcels for tomorrow.
Since the end of April, Salvation Army food parcels have stabilised at around 5500 per week around the country—but this compares to around 1500 per week before lockdown.
‘It’s stabilising, but at a very high and very unsustainable level,’ says Salvation Army policy analyst Ronji Tanielu. While most New Zealanders have returned to work at Level Two, unemployment and people seeking food assistance will remain at unprecedented levels for months, if not years, to come.
Our foodbanks continue the mahi everyday, to get hundreds of food parcels out to those in need. And we continue to need donations, in order to meet demand—most of whom are first-time clients, who have lost jobs or are not earning a sustainable income since COVID-19.
‘‘We absolutely foresee that COVID-19 is going to have a sustained social impact on our nation,’ says Captain Bryant Richards, hub coordinator at Waitakere. ‘We are so grateful for the donations coming in from the public and from business that help us provide support directly to people and families in need, and as we look ahead we recognise that we will need to remain flexible and creative in our response.’