When you think of poverty, Dunedin is not the first city to spring to mind. Treed, gentrified and dripping in history it wears its Scottish roots with pride.
However, poverty is there, as it is in all reaches of New Zealand, and those who minister to the needy say the Covid-19 pandemic is rapidly making things much, much worse.
There are four foodbanks in the Dunedin region, run by The Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and Presbyterian Support, with another small community-run operation in nearby Mosgiel.
David McKenzie of The Salvation Army says they all work closely together and share resources.
He says they were approached by Chanel Gardner of local seafood business Harbour Fish earlier this year to see if they could help out by supplying fish to the region’s needy.
“We’ve never had fish in our food banks before but, to be honest we generally had little meat either.”
The initiative began when Ant Smith, who heads up the Port Chalmers Fishermen’s Cooperative, approached Harbour Fish to see if they, being a Licenced Fish Receiver (LFR), would be prepared to process and store the fish caught by the Cooperative’s 28 fishing vessels.
Smith says what he thought would be the most difficult part, which was getting the quota holder to give up valuable Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) for the scheme, turned out to be the easiest.
“Talley’s were awesome. They didn’t hesitate,” he says, “and Chanel and Aaron at Harbour Fish have been brilliant.”
David McKenzie says Gardner spoke to the foodbank collective about the idea and then chose The Salvation Army to coordinate the scheme among the four foodbanks.
The first deliveries were made late August and McKenzie says they have been a real hit. He says Harbour Fish is supplying recipes with the fish and that is particularly important.
“Some of our clients’ cooking skills are very basic. However, everyone we have offered fish and a recipe to has been both surprised and delighted to get it in their food parcel. One person said he had never cooked fish before but was keen to give it a go,” says McKenzie.
Chanel Gardner says the initiative has shown the fishing community in their true light.
“What struck me when Ant called to pitch this idea is that despite all the adversity fishers are up against his primary concern was simply to give to those in need. Our industry is under attack from all angles currently, more so than ever before, and Ant and the fishers just want to give back to those who need it.
“Finding positive and accurate press about those who sustainably harvest seafood is nigh on impossible in the current political arena so being able to focus on an initiative where the fishers are doing an act of kindness is really refreshing,” says Gardner.
McKenzie says with Covid highlighting the need for good food in the community they are starting to see more awareness and have started seeing meat, as well as fish, supplied. He says they ask the recipient what they would like.
“We let them have the choice of whether they want meat or fish,” says McKenzie.
The Salvation Army, and other agencies agree that the need is increasing but say the responses need to be local.
During lockdown the Civil Defence response was helping people who could not get out to the supermarket as well as those who could not afford to buy food.
The level of need in Dunedin has not been the same as other places, particularly Auckland.
McKenzie says they have found that many foodbank users have managed remarkably well through lockdown, but they are anticipating, and are planning for, the impact of the wage subsidy coming off and further redundancies.
He would like to see this scheme rolled out around the country.
“One of the things I love most is the connection with the local fishermen and the local plant and processing people at Harbour Fish. That connection between locals is so important,” says McKenzie.
Ant Smith agrees. He says expanding this out around New Zealand would be great, both for the real help this could give families in need and for the connection with the community that local fishermen could benefit from.
“The guys fishing for us are doing a great job in a really bad time. They have managed to catch enough fish for a couple of hundred foodbank meals so far and I just want to say thank you to them.
“They have families of their own, are dealing with all sorts of barriers to their own livelihoods but they just want to help.”