The Alert Level 4 lockdown meant extra stress for many families in Tāmaki Makaurau, but with the generosity and help of community partners, the Glen Innes Youth Aid team has been able to make a difference.
“At the start of the Alert Level 4 lockdown I was receiving so many requests for assistance from government agencies, schools and NGOs who had lost contact with families at risk, I was unable to keep up,” says Sergeant Rhys (Blocker) Smith.
“Then Steve Farrelly from Glen Innes School’s Breakfast Club and Paul from the Rapid Relief Team (RRT) called and said, ‘what do you need?’”
And just like that, the Glen Innes Youth Aid team received more than 300 food parcels.
By communicating with schools, Oranga Tamariki (OT), Genesis, social workers, Plunket, and Truancy Services to name a few, Senior Constable Cath Maehl prioritised the families in need.
For those requiring urgent intervention, the team used the emergency food parcels provided by RRT.
While making deliveries, Blocker and his team completed welfare checks, which he says helped break down barriers and perceptions of Police.
“The food parcel helps us engage with the family. This enables us to check on the kids, see what the underlying issues may be, or what other resources are needed.
“From these welfare checks and Cath’s engagement with community partners, we identified families in further need and on Wednesdays we deliver the Breakfast Club food parcels.
“The food parcels contain all the dietary needs for a large family including fruit, vegies, meat, cereal, bread and some extra treats for the kids.”
Glen Innes School added education packs to the deliveries. When other schools learned police were delivering education packs, more requests came from local schools. The team became “a bit like father Christmas to some of these families, as the education packs contained both education and fun activities for kids,” Blocker adds.
Steve also donated nappies and laundry powder, a local group provided bedding, and the Family Harm team sourced a cellphone at short notice for a 14-year-old whose family had just been taken into MIQ.
“There are so many amazing groups in our community, to support these groups to support our communities is critical to ensuring that as a community we can get through this pandemic together,” says Inspector Lyle Norris.
The community engagement has been memorable for the staff involved. “I must admit, every Wednesday has been my favourite day to come to work," says Blocker.
"I've seen a grandmother almost cry, an 11-year-old ran out and hugged me (I was outside and trying to socially distance), and I have never seen kids so happy to get homework as when we deliver the education packs.
“I've also seen some sad cases such as a family whose father is in prison and the 16-year-old daughter is now the breadwinner as mum is looking after the baby. The 16-year-old cannot currently work due to COVID-19 and they are under massive financial strain."
He says one point of difference from the great work of other food banks is the degree of information-sharing and collaboration between agencies.
"Through sharing and collaboration, we were able to quickly identify and engage with the families most in need.
“We enabled other agencies such as OT to remain in contact through the lockdown, and visiting the families was much more than just delivering food, it was about addressing needs and improving wellbeing.”
This collaborative approach saved time, avoided double-ups of delivery, allowed more families to receive the food when they need it, and linked community partners together to become more efficient.