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Unprecedented community response to COVID-19

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

Nearly $2 million in funding has gone from the Waikato Community Funders Group to community organisations who are meeting the needs of vulnerable people during COVID-19, a time which has seen record numbers needing food parcels and support for necessities.

“The collective response from community groups across the Waikato has been incredible”, says Dennis Turton, Chief Executive of Trust Waikato. “A tremendous job has been done, under very stressful and strange times, to collaborate and distribute resources and support to where they are most needed”.

The grants have been given to independent living trusts, citizens advice bureaus, community houses and night shelters, and groups which cater specifically to Maaori, Pasifika and multicultural communities across Waikato.

The Hamilton Multicultural Services Trust (HMST) have been extremely busy coordinating emergency food and heating, in cooperation with the Salvation Army. Other settlement sector agencies such as Shama, English Language Partners, Refugee Orientation Centre and the Waikato Refugee Forum clients are referred to HMST who then coordinate the delivery of food parcels, blankets and heaters. HMST Community Connector, Jackie Runciman also checks-in with each family on how other support could be provided.

“As the weeks progressed through the lock down period we were contacted by many people who were concerned for migrant and former refugee families. There has been a very real effect on people who are no longer employed or have a significantly reduced income,” says Ellie Wilkinson, Operations Manager of the HMST.

In some cases the number of people per household increased to reduce the cost of rent, accommodate people who have lost their jobs, and house people who have not been able to return to their home country. The HMST assists with these increasingly complicated situations, including the rising stress within families and anxiety of international students, who can be quite isolated.

“Our hope is that we can assist families to return to some form of employment and access other assistance from government which they may not know they are entitled to or do not know yet how to access,” says Ellie.

Across South Waikato, community organisations worked together to assist and support unemployed whaanau and vulnerable families. Tokoroa Council of Social Services, South Waikato Pacific Island Community Services, South Waikato YMCA, Halo Charitable Trust and others, partnered to deliver their shared vision of manaakitangata (sharing the love to all).

“It is through acts of manaakitanga, such as helping others, a stranger, encouraging one another during times of adversity that this important concept secures strength for whaanau and communities,” says Josiah Teokotai, General Manager of Tokoroa Council of Social Services.

All the organisations agreed on common actions including feeding vulnerable families and elderly and delivering firewood and blankets to warm homes. They also increased communication with people who had become less connected including messages to rangatahi (youth) to reinforce mental wellbeing, education and achievement, connecting with kuia and kaumatua via a social support person, communication with the Pacific Peoples Group, and engaging with local iwi radio, RaukawaFM where EOC, NZ Police, local council and support organisations are on-air live from Monday to Friday.

In Taumarunui hundreds of food parcels were distributed through the combined efforts of Manu Ariki Marae, Te Hooranga Pai Marae, Te Hooranga Pai Marae collective and Taumarunui Kokiri, who assisted with packing and delivery.

Maungarongo Phillips, of Manu Ariki Marae says that “of our elderly and vulnerable families who received support, many came to tears as they were handed their parcels of food, so deep were their feelings of appreciation that strangers actually cared for them”.

As the only provider of emergency night shelter accommodation in the Kirikiriroa region, the Hamilton Christian Night Shelter found they had become the last port of call for many homeless people seeking a safe place to isolate. The shelter went from providing overnight stays to a 24/7 operation.

“Our aim during this time was to provide a safe place for our most vulnerable community members and to avoid any positive tests results of COVID-19 for staff, volunteers and of course, our guests,” says manager Joanne Turner.

The night shelter staff were also determined to find a way to provide nutritious food for their guests and Methodist City Action contributed by providing meals seven days a week.

The Waikato Community Funders Group have been hugely humbled by the numerous, (too many to mention), acts of generosity and kindness that have come to light during a very arduous and strained time for all our communities. It is with a lot of gratitude that we say thank you to all the groups who continue to make a huge difference in people’s lives who need it the most.

As Level 2 begins, many support organisations will transition to provide their services with some adaptations. Into the future, each Waikato funder is encouraging organisations to apply as per the funding rounds and criteria on their websites.

The Waikato Community Funders Group includes Trust Waikato, WEL Energy Trust, Hamilton City Council, Len Reynolds Trust, DV Bryant Trust, Gallagher Foundation, the Tindall Foundation, Momentum and Braemar Charitable Trust.

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