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Small Waikato town committee leaves community awestruck over food parcel deliveries amid Covid-19 pandemic

A small Waikato town committee has left its community awestruck by providing food parcels and sanitation packs for almost every household in its vicinity.

Ben Brown (front) with members of the Rāhui Pōkeka Distribution hub and some of the committee team. Source: Supplied

Many of its community members face income uncertainty at the hand of Covid-19, and a large majority already live week-to-week.

Located about halfway between Auckland and Hamilton, Meremere falls into what the Government dubs as a “deprivation zone”.

The Meremere Development Committee can usually be found pulling together funding for community events, youth activities and things that need to get done around the area.

But this time, they’ve gone above and beyond. Or as community member John Otuhiva tells it - what the committee has done is “next level”.

“They are heaven sent, these guys, and if God wants them back we don’t want to give them back,” says Mr Otuhiva.

Some of the food parcels the committee has put together so far. Source: Supplied

“If the rest of New Zealand has people like these guys the whole world would be a better place.”

Mr Otuhiva has lived in Meremere for five years. He and his partner, Brownie Taiapa, have six children - their youngest being six years old.

While they are both lucky enough to have full-time work, he says his hours may be getting cut soon because of coronavirus, and the food parcel and sanitation packs couldn’t have come at a better time.

“There were things in those parcels that we received that we couldn’t get at the supermarkets. By the time we finish work and go there everything is already gone. It totally blew me away,” says Mr Otuhiva.

“Especially the sanitiser, the prices crept up prior to the lockdown and we were kinda scratching our heads about what we were going to do. It’s not like we could carry soap around to the supermarket.”

Brownie Taiapa, John Otuhiva and their children Source: Supplied

Mr Otuhiva says there are many families in the community who have needed the packs.

“A few families in our street are kinda in the same position and they’re not even working and have found it quite hard. What the committee has done for the entire village is next level,” he says.

Ben Brown is the secretary of the committee and is, humbly, one of the key players behind the initiatives.

He says there are two groups who reside within Meremere; those who would have struggled regardless of the impact of Covid-19, and those who have lost an income because of the virus, or their primary income is being made redundant.

“Meremere is quite deprived generally. The committee was in a good position to jump in on the frontline straight away,” he says.

Yesterday the committee delivered around 200 food parcels with staple items inside, with the aim for every household in the town to receive one. So far, Mr Brown says around 95 per cent of households have had a parcel delivered. There are plans to deliver more as long as procurement and funding allows it.

Because of the Level 4 requirements, and social distancing guidelines, the team of eight can’t recruit any extra volunteers so are doing most of the hard yards all on their own, operating from the Meremere community centre. The committee has been deemed an essential social service to continue operating under lockdown conditions. 

Despite a lack of extra hands, they have been able to secure more funding from the Waikato Community Funders Group, including Trust Waikato, Wel Energy Trust and Glenice, John Gallagher Foundation and the DV Bryant Trust to help out. 

The committee has also been supported by other Government agencies that assist the drop off of items and have organised logistics, like Whānau Ora, which organised the sanitation packs. They have even gained support from Civil Defence.

“We were called by Civil Defence yesterday who want to use the committee as the frontline arm in the community,” he says.

A sign put up in Pokeno by the Meremere Development Committee encouraging the community to stay home. Source: Supplied

“We’re also planning delivery of about five kilos of kumara to every house. And about four kilos of flour to every house. The need is quite great.”

Not only have they organised sanitation packs and food parcels, the committee is also actively setting up sanitisation programmes to clean the public areas around Meremere. They have also set up Covid-19 lockdown signage for surrounding towns like Te Kauwhata and Pokeno encouraging people to stay safe and stay home.  

Mr Otuhiva isn’t the only person in Meremere who is thankful for the committee’s work.

“We’ve had a lot of people get in touch saying it has made all the difference,” says Mr Brown.

“There were people saying they were wondering what they were going to do. It takes a lot of stress off them knowing that we’re out on the frontlines - everyone is really, really grateful. We’re just doing what we need to do really.”

The committee will continue to be help the community for as long as they can, even post lockdown. Mr Brown says the next few weeks and months will be unchartered territory.

"As far as the state of emergency is concerned I think the Civil Defence will support us up until the end of that. 

"Beyond that, as long as we’ve got funds to support the community we’ll do what we can do. We’ll do as much as we can. We’ve always been here to help the community and I can’t imagine that stopping."