Full tummies for kids
A food shortage in the Wallace household became the inspiration for a charity that feeds hungry kids in Taupo¯ playgrounds each Saturday.
The Full Puku Project founder Nick Wallace says earlier this year his family had a hard week with very little food.
“After that, we knew how it felt to go hungry.”
Not long after, Pak’n Save had One Dollar Week. Nick got his friends to spend $20 each and then gave out hampers to hungry families.
“That’s how it started. I wanted it to be about the kids.”
Surrounded by hungry kids when he grew up in Levin, Nick says that children have no choice on what their parents spend money on and often there was none left over for food.
“I wanted no judgement on it. I wanted to just offer what was needed, without any hidden agendas. Other places that offer food can make you feel degraded and that’s what I didn’t want.”
The fulltime glasshouse worker at Turners & Growers in Reporoa has a new baby and an 18 month old plus three older kids at home, and says he is always taking in his nephews as his wife, Susan Wallace, is too kind-hearted and won’t turn anyone away. He is of Nga¯ti Maniapoto and Nga¯i Tahu descent, and his wife is Nga¯puhi.
Friends in the Advance Church provided practical help to turn his vision into reality, and he says he couldn’t have done it without mentoring from Vanessa Healey who has experience organising lunches at Tauhara Primary School, Amber Murray who is a chef and Benoir Midwood-Murray who does videos and publicity.
Together, The Full Puku Project has come up with a formula that effectively feeds 50 to 70 kids each Saturday lunchtime, with an increasing number of businesses offering to donate food.
“Since we opened it up to the public the growth has been exponential. I don’t go and find them [suppliers who donate food], they usually just come.”
Last Saturday Catch 22 Takeaways supplied lunch, Countdown supplies food every week and M21 Meats provided sausages for a Fun Day. He says Mitre 10 Mega Taupo¯ and Bailey Quinns Styling have also been generous. Fundraising efforts are going towards making Christmas hampers and he says it’s going to be hard putting together a nomination list for who gets the hampers.
Nick stresses The Full Puku Project is separate from the church and giving out the lunches is the end game of a highly organised operation. Amber knows the food safety rules and also times it so that food preparation finishes 15 minutes beforehand. Two teams go out to four parks to distribute the food over a half hour period, and Nick says they have learned the best way is to tell the youngsters to take the food, otherwise they can stand back.
“We say, ‘come grab this’. We see the shy ones and wave them to come over. If they want more than one, we just hand it over.”
His wife and three older children often give out the food. Nick says the kids are more comfortable accepting the lunch parcels from those their own age.
They are looking at finding people who live near the parks to keep the lunches. He says this will allow the kids to come whenever they want.
The food is always different. The last menu was ham and cheese buns, fruit, chips and bars. Sometimes they do hot cooked food, and have done nachos and pizza.
Nick says that he sees that for some families drug addiction is a problem but stresses it is his overall view that parents are not neglectful.
“The cost of living outweighs what people earn. Many parents work and the families have nothing. Rents have gone up $90 to $100 this year and wages are the same.”
Workmates at Turners & Growers have brought an awareness that there is a need in Kaingaroa and Tu¯rangi, and he has plans to expand the project into these areas.
He says that he can’t quite believe how well it has all come together and says his Mum would say ‘if you keep it humble, God will bless it.’
“And she tells me over and over and over!”
■ The Full Puku Project will be distributing lunch packs this Saturday.
1pm-1.30pm at the Parkdale Reserve on Richmond Ave and at the Taupo¯ Skatepark. 1.30pm-2pm at the Pihanga Reserve and at the Brice St Reserve.
If you give something for free, then give it freely. It shouldn’t come with conditions.” ” Nick Wallace.
The Full Puku Project founder Nick Wallace pictured at his Reporoa workplace Turners & Growers.