Hutt foodbank's future uncertain

SIMON EDWARDS
Last updated 11:14 05/08/2014
Lower Hutt foodbank

New base: Lower Hutt Foodbank co-ordinator Wendy Lane, left, and volunteer Moira Johnston, sort items for an emergency food parcel at the foodbank's new temporary premises in the Te Awakairangi building.

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Local people, businesses and churches have long been generous with food donations to Lower Hutt Foodbank - now cash for rent is needed too.

The foodbank has been temporarily operating out of the former Te Awakairangi community building, 47 Laings Rd, since April. The move was forced by the start of upgrading work on the council civic centre.

For eight years the foodbank ran from the basement of the Horticultural Hall, with no rent charged and the council also covering phone and power costs.

The council, through its property arm UrbanPlus, put Te Awakairangi up for sale after moving community groups out last year.

Treasurer Paul Gandar said the good news was the foodbank had negotiated an extension of its stay at 47 Laings Rd until October, with council subsidising the rent.

"Another positive" is that council's community services manager Matt Reid has said council will help with fit-out costs when foodbank locates a longer-term home.

Gandar says while it's a relief having another three months at Te Awakairangi has been settled, the October deadline creates a new "crunch point".

"We are working with other organisations to find a permanent home and there is a good chance that this could be in Te Awakairangi but this opportunity will come to nothing if the foodbank can't raise sufficient money to cover rental payments," she said. 

"We've had to start paying half the rent this week [mid- July] and wherever we end up in October we'll face full rents."

Trusts and other grant agencies are reluctant to cover accommodation costs so foodbank has broken down the likely cost of a commercial rent into weekly units of $440. It is asking groups, businesses or individuals to commit to fund one or more of these weekly units for at least a couple of years, "and preferably a bit longer," Gandar said.

"We are looking for longer- term pledges so that there's sufficient certainty to take on a lease later this year."

Pledges for half and quarter units of $220 and $110, or even eighths at $55 - "would all help".

The foodbank already has sponsorships covering 14 weekly units, or a bit over a quarter of what it needs, from churches, a Lions club and individuals.

"What we need to do now is find the other three quarters. And we also need to find them pretty quickly because we have a decision point looming around our annual general meeting [on August 28]."

The choice will be "clear cut". If there are enough rent pledges, foodbank can continue. If there isn't, "we'll recommend the Foodbank closes shop".

THE NUMBERS

Foodbank's 2014 statistics show that, on average, it provided 149 food parcels a month from January to the end of June, helping more than 1300 adults and 1400 children.

"While the average number of parcels is down on last year, the average size is up," co-ordinator Wendy Lane said.

"This seems to reflect increasing stresses on families. We are giving out fewer parcels to individuals and more to parents who are struggling to meet the needs of their children."

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The reasons for this shift are diverse. Domestic violence is an ever- present issue.

"I have cases every week of women coming in for parcels because they are fleeing from abusive relationships." Other factors include mental illness, benefit stand-down and families hit by sudden and unexpected large bills.

Nearly half the people who visited the foodbank last year or to whom parcels were supplied through other agencies received help only once and 85 per cent were helped five times or fewer.

ANNUAL FOOD DRIVE CANCELLED

The annual Lions and Rotary Clubs food drive for the Foodbank, part- sponsored each year by the Hutt News and PMP Distribution, has been cancelled for 2014.

The move is fallout from uncertainty as to where the Foodbank can relocate to - and even whether it will still be around.

"We don't think we should have a food drive in September when we don't know if the Foodbank will still be in operation after the beginning of October," foodbank president Eric Wadsworth said.

The foodbank has stocks for the next three months due to the public response on the supermarket collection day in the middle of May. A Pub Charity grant enabled more buying.

For information or to offer rent help, email Paul Gandar at huttfoodbank@gmail.com.

- Hutt News

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