‘Here to help u’ is ready to feed and support

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An impressive COVID-19 relief effort is seeing aid being made available to vulnerable people in Hamilton, linking business and community.

Immediate aid to the vulnerable, delivered in a way that builds a stronger society after the crisis, is the focus of the COVID-19 relief effort coordinated by the Waikato’s lead social and community service providers and supported by Momentum Waikato and other major local funders.

‘Here to help u through COVID-19’ is a new online community support tool and network centered around a website, www.heretohelpu.nz, where any member of the public can quietly ask for help, and individuals, families, businesses and organisations can securely and easily target their offers of assistance.

It is the ‘front counter’ for a wide and coordinated support effort that aims to ensure anyone suffering hardship during the COVID-19 lockdown and beyond can easily request and get the help they need, regardless of their walk of life.

Wise Group and Community Waikato teamed up to coordinate and lead the effort, which involves a range of providers and funders, including Volunteering Waikato, Kaivolution, The Salvation Army, Trust Waikato, The Department of Internal Affairs, Hamilton City Council and Momentum Waikato, alongside an ever-widening cast of other much-appreciated community groups and organisations.

‘Here to help u’ has now been launched in Hamilton, with plans to expand across the Waikato as soon as possible. The assistance the website offers includes food parcels, prepared meals, a collection service, general local advice and support, mental health care, and safe social connections.

Wise Group joint chief executive Jacqui Graham says they are committed to doing whatever it takes to meet the local community’s need and to strengthen the wellbeing of people, whānau and communities.

“It is phenomenal that we’ve been able to get the ‘Here to help u’ website and network up and running so quickly,” says Graham.

Community Waikato chief executive Holly Snape says many local people are having to ask for food and other social support for the first time.

“The COVID-19 crisis has simply widened the catchment and range of people who find themselves in need through no fault of their own. These are stories we see all the time, there are just suddenly many more of them.

“I hope when we are through the current crisis that there is a wider recognition of this reality and it makes for a more compassionate and understanding society generally. It is time to dispel the stigma around using food banks and other support services, it could be any of us that land up needing them.”

Snape says the ‘Here to help u’ project’s first priority was to restore and reinforce the routine food supply for the vulnerable.

“With the lockdown and the particular susceptibility of the many older volunteers, existing services like food banks lost capacity just when the demand was spiking.

“So, the ‘Here to help u’ working group started off by ‘food mapping’, to identify and address the growing needs and gaps in provision.”

Figures produced by Erana Severne, the operations manager at the Wise Group Houchen Hub, confirmed about 70 percent of Hamilton’s community food support was out of action or close to it at the end of March.

Usually more than 735 hot meals are produced per week, but at the onset of the lockdown that dropped to 100, while the number of food parcels prepared weekly dropped from 329 to 89.

The response to this challenge is now seeing commercial kitchens around the city mobilising to provide local food aid – a number are needed so they can be lightly crewed to maintain safe social distancing.

The big facility playing a part in ‘Here to help u’ are the kitchens at the Claudelands Event Centre, where meals are being produced to support organisations answering the influx of need in their communities.

Momentum Waikato’s involvement has so far included funding for the online project, involvement in the background research and planning, and material assistance to Wise Group at the Houchens Hub in Glenview.

Severne says the former Houchen Retreat was in the process of becoming the Wise Group’s new Wellness Village, but swiftly became known as the ‘Houchens Hub’ as the virus challenge approached.

“We pivoted to meet Covid-19,” she says. “Staff here have been cooking and freezing meals since mid-March.”

Two chest freezers were installed early on, so the team could get ahead of the demand for food, and the Momentum Waikato Board also released funds to CE Kelvyn Eglinton so he could continue to assist Wise Group to build their relief capacity at the edge-of-town campus.

“It has been great to accelerate our partnership with Wise Group at our Houchen facility,” says Eglinton.

“Our experience with ‘Here to help u’ is a great example of meeting the current challenges head on by seizing the opportunity to widen and deepen collaboration across different sectors, so we all achieve a greater impact in our collective mission to create positive permanent change for our communities.”

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