Cost of living hitting hard
Families forced to take out loans to buy food
Four food parcels a week used to be the norm for a Morrinsville foodbank, before Covid.
Now the Baptist Churchbased foodbank gives out up to 10 a day, or an average of about 100 a month.
The Ezekiel Trust Budgeting and Food Bank has been operating for 32 years and is currently run by Bronwyn O’Sullivan, who started two weeks before the first lockdown.
Towards the end of last year they began getting a lot of new clients, including some who had chosen not to get the Covid vaccine and had lost their jobs.
People may be just a couple of traumatic events from not being able to pay the bills, she said, whether that’s a job loss or some other unforeseen change of circumstances.
‘‘You’ve got food prices going up, petrol prices going up. And for people who are just on the edge, one of those things will tip them over.’’
She said some Morrinsville families have ended up in emergency accommodation because landlords couldn’t afford to bring rentals up to the Government’s ‘‘beautiful’’ standard.
‘‘There was nothing wrong with the homes here in Morrinsville, but they’ve sold them, so now there are no rentals available.
‘‘Emergency housing may be in places like Hamilton or Tīrau, a long way from their kids’ schools... So then they’re having to transport the kids from the emergency housing to school every day. And they don’t get petrol money.’’
The service makes no judgment of those who come through its doors. It’s hard for people to make that first approach, and O’Sullivan reassures them they’ve done a good thing.
‘‘Because tonight there’ll be food on the table for the kids or for them, or for the grandparents or whoever they’re helping.’’
Some get past a tricky patch and are good to go. Others need more support.
‘‘The really scary thing that started happening recently, people are going into debt for food. They’re going to loan companies and borrowing $1000 because they think, okay, we can be all right, we’ll pay for food, and then we will sort out the rest of life in a month’s time,’’ she said.
‘‘New Zealanders have never done that.’’
It is a symptom of a country not coping, she said.
‘‘There’s something going wrong somewhere. If people have to borrow money for food, that’s not healthy.’’
Covid has played a part, but she describes the pandemic as more like a magnifying glass.
‘‘It’s just shown us in big form what was already there happening, and we didn’t quite know it or feel it the same way.’’
‘‘You’ve got food prices going up, petrol prices going up. And for people who are just on the edge, one of those things will tip them over. ’’
Ezekiel Trust Budgeting and Food Bank manager
‘‘People have been saying for years our social welfare system isn’t doing what it was designed to do, but no one seems to be looking at it. And it’s not pointing a finger and blaming – it’s not the management did this or the people on the ground did that.
‘‘It’s somebody who can be neutral and sit back and go, ‘what did we design this for? And why isn’t it doing it?’ Because I think if people ask those questions honestly, they would go, ‘oh, my goodness, why are we doing that?’’’
She cites a mother who came in with a new baby. She had had to stop work and go on maternity leave, with a drop in income making things tight for her and her partner.
Her baby fell sick, and she went to Work and Income who, after initially telling her she didn’t qualify for a grant, then realised her need was urgent and gave her $100.
But that money had to go straight onto the baby’s emergency needs, leaving her still with no food.
‘‘So she comes down to see me and pours her heart out. She feels like a failure. Because, you know, a mother’s supposed to be able to look after her kids.’’
O’Sullivan says a lot of the people they deal with are really resourceful.
‘‘They know how to stretch a meal, they’re not all people that don’t know what they’re doing. They are amazingly intelligent people.’’
One who has been tapping into the Morrinsville service is Tahuna woman Ruth Bell.
She and her partner have been using the foodbank since just before Christmas.
‘‘I hated asking, but they said to me that I did the right thing.’’
She said they are using the foodbank fortnightly, getting provisions like a dozen eggs, tins of tomato sauce, pasta, flour, coffee and tea.
‘‘It’s amazing how much that helps.’’
This is new for them; they had to raise an unexpected loan just before Christmas, and it squeezed the budget.
Ruth has worked as a cleaner in the past, but not for some time after a work accident, and her partner is on superannuation.
They both have health issues that restrict their diet, and sometimes that means she’s forced to buy more expensive options when the cheaper options have been cleaned off the shelves.
Normally, she drives fortnightly to Hamilton, where she has family, and shops at the Dinsdale Countdown where she finds she gets more for her money than in Morrinsville.
But they haven’t been for a couple of months.
‘‘Just lately it’s been not achievable because we just don’t have the money for gas.’’
Everything’s going up, she says, even fruit and vegetables – ‘‘it’s unbelievable how much that has gone up’’.
Ruth has been growing her own tomatoes and apple cucumbers, but a knee operation has limited her mobility, so she hasn’t been able to grow the other vegetables she normally would to help them meet their budget – $90 a fortnight for food after paying their bills, she said. Rent for their two-bedroom home is $300.
‘‘You buy what you can and just make do with what you’ve got. You have to.’’
They are likely to continue to need the foodbank for a while.
‘‘To be honest, I’m really worried. Because we are struggling that bad that I can’t see how we’re going to have the money to get wood for our fire for the winter.’’