Behind the scenes at the Auckland City Mission

by India Hendrikse / 15 June, 2017
Photography/ Adrian Malloch
Auckland City Mission’s distribution and retail manager Tracy Goddard, in front of hundreds of donations.

It’s officially winter, and with the cold comes an increased demand for food and warmth. At the Auckland City Mission’s distribution center in Grafton, it’s all hands on deck.

“How do you dig out of a hole when you don’t have a spade… when you don’t have any tools to start building a ladder?” she asks me. It’s a rhetorical question from Auckland City Mission’s Tracy Goddard – but one increasingly needing to be answered, especially as the income inequality gap continues to widen. She continues: “It might be a hole you grew up in and you don’t actually know what’s on the other side.” Goddard’s words give meaning to the cold, austere two-storey Grafton warehouse we’re standing in. As distribution and retail manager at Auckland City Mission’s distribution centre, it’s her job to help Auckland’s most vulnerable, with food and clothes and home-making essentials.

Inside the Mission’s distribution centre.

Teetering piles of black rubbish bags, swollen with the likes of old sweaters and trousers, are placed not far from a plethora of antique chairs, wardrobes and beds. Separately, the items are just old things, but together, they speak of Auckland’s charity. Of community. In their new homes they’ll be necessities, not space-fillers, providing more than decoration. Here, what has been one person’s junk will quite literally be another’s treasure.

It’s Goddard’s job to sort everything out. While the Hobson Street branch of the Mission – the one with daily dinners that feed between 70 to 110 people – is a safe haven for the city’s homeless and is the independent charity’s head office, its Grafton warehouse is its backbone. Its subsidiary, Foodlink, regularly supplies food to around 30 food banks and community groups across the region. On average, the Mission distributes over $1million worth of food every year.

One of the Mission’s volunteers, Adam Wellman.

Goddard ensures three vehicles are out picking up donations daily; the Auckland public can have goods collected directly from their homes, so long as the quality suffices. “Things that are in good, serviceable condition, with six to12 months serviceability or usability, that’s what we can distribute. That’s what we give to people on the street, that’s what we give to families, that’s what we sell in our op-shops,” says Goddard.

Unfortunately, it’s common for Goddard and her groups of rotating and one-off volunteers to find rubbish within the bags: torn and damaged goods and clothes that cost money to dispose of. It’s something Goddard desperately wants to change. “One of our core values is treating people with dignity and respect and we don’t like to give people stuff that is torn and damaged and filthy,” she says. “A lot of people think that if people are desperate, they should take anything. But what I often say to volunteers is, ‘why do we have to compete with a third world country for how poor our poor are?’ Shouldn’t we be raising the bar?’”

Donated appliances and household items.

The day I visited, there were about 10 volunteers from telecommunications company Spark, plus a handful of individuals, all sifting through clothes, toiletries and food. At Christmas time, there can be up to 30 volunteers at the warehouse, coordinating new items to give to families (Goddard has a blanket rule for Christmas that nothing is second-hand), and on Saturdays year-round, volunteering slots are often booked six months in advance. “You just have to act locally and do what you can,” says Adam Wellman, who’s been visiting the centre with wife Cynthia since December. We’re chatting downstairs, where all the consumables are stored. Watching him rifle through the two-metre-high shelves stacked with cans – brands range from Homebrand to Ceres Organics, a subtle indication of the varying demographics that donate – I ask why he chose to give the Mission his time. “Because the Mission has to serve so many people in the region and you’ve got all these facilities and they need all the help they can get. I just think about the poor people who have to struggle every day,” he says.

Last winter, the Mission distributed more than 3000 emergency food parcels to families and individuals. The season is the second busiest time of year after Christmas. The reasons for the increased demand for food during the colder months varies, says spokesperson for the Mission, Alexis Sawyers. “Things like being off work with illness, doctor and prescription costs, increased cost of heating. For families living week to week, any unexpected or higher cost will impact significantly on the money they have available to purchase food,” she says. The food parcels are filled with a variety of perishables and non-perishables, such as potatoes, bananas, sausages, bread, tinned tomatoes and rice.

A team of volunteers sorts through clothing donations.

Designed in both individual and family sizes, the parcels provide enough food for either one person or a family of four for three meals a day, for four days.

Delivery driver Ben Thompson has been working at the Mission for 15 years. He fell into the job at 21, when he was desperate for work and sought it through Work and Income New Zealand. While growing up “quite well-off” and not being able to relate to the kind of poverty that the Mission deals with daily, Thompson feels very passionately about the role his job plays. “I didn’t know too much about it when I got the job, and then I got into it and saw that I was helping people with my actions, by coming to work every day I was helping people in one way or another.”

A food parcel is prepared. Typical items include canned goods, a jar of jam, a bag of flour, sugar, 30 teabags, a bag of rice, pasta, cereal, 1kg of meat, margarine, a litre of UHT milk, 1-2 bread loaves, 1kg of potatoes, carrots, onions, one toilet roll, soap and shampoo.

Goddard loves her job for the same reason. She’d been in the supply chain industry for the past 20 years, but grew tired of the way her efforts funded offshore shareholders rather than the local community. “I was a bit jaded with the whole thing,” she says. “When I saw the [job] ad for the Auckland City Mission, it meant I could put my skills to work helping people in my community. It’s really nice to be able to do something that’s really impacting locally.” With one in four New Zealand children living in poverty, according to a University of Otago research unit, Goddard’s words certainly hit home. “We as a nation, I think, have a responsibility to find solutions for families and education and our young people that we’re bringing up,” she says. “To give them opportunities and show them basic life skills, and I think we lack in that greatly.” 

Five ways to help

You could donate:

 

  1. Your time. The Auckland City Mission is always looking for volunteers. 
  1. Good-quality clothing and goods. Have too many socks? Not enough space in your closet? During winter, these items are in hot demand: blankets, sleeping bags, warm socks, hats, gloves, scarves and winter coats and jumpers. 
  1. Money. Whether $1 or $100, donate online at aucklandcitymission.org.nz. 
  1. Meals for the drop-in centre. Have some leftover bacon and egg pie from a corporate breakfast? A spare tray of lasagne from a lunch meeting? Bring it in. 
  1. Non-perishable items for food parcels: canned soup, packets of pasta or rice, canned fish, canned vegetables.
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