Demand for food parcels in Hamilton have quadrupled in the past few weeks, but the Society of St Vincent De Paul Hamilton said they have not seen demand peaking yet.

SVDP Hamilton manager Mike Rolton said they are seeing an increase in new clients.

“We’ve still got our base customers, which are generally low income, beneficiaries or the working poor. But now we’ve got a whole new range of clients coming to us,” Mr Rolton told NZ Catholic in a phone interview.

He said he definitely does not see the demand slowing down. “Not in the immediate future. I think this is the new normal,” he said.

In a report he gave to Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe, Mr Rolton said that, from April 8 to April 20, they have given out 443 food parcels. This was 300 more than the 100 they distributed in the whole of April last year.

Mr Rolton said their new clients include those who have lost their jobs, those who can’t go back to work because someone has to take care of the kids, and those who find the $583 wage subsidy from the Government may cover rent but cannot cover food as well.

When the country goes down to alert level 2, it is possible that people will go back to work and find they have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced.

“The second problem I see is, all these organisations that have popped up to help fight the food battle is a one-off. When they stop feeding all those people they are currently feeding, then all those people will come to organisations like ours,” Mr Rolton said. “We’ll have that flood.”

Mr Rolton said SVDP Hamilton spent $24, 000 in the first half of April to provide food to their clients. And while they are bleeding funds, they are not in a dire situation due to the help they are getting from central and local government, as well as donations from businesses in Hamilton and abroad.

“I’m working out now whether I’ll open (in level 2) all the (SVDP) shops or some of the shops, the more profitable shops that need to open. I’ve got rent holidays on 3 of my 4 shops. We are current with all our creditors, so that’s great as well. And I have used the wage subsidy for my staff,” he said.

Mr Rolton said they also received a very large financial donation from the Australian corporation he used to work for – Tetrapak.

“It would be tight, but we should be OK. If it (this situation) goes beyond late June, I’ll start to be a bit concerned. I’m still going to lose $120,000 with no income. That’s just the facts,” he said.

The $120,000 he was referring to is lost revenue from the closure of the SVDP shops during the lockdown.

“What will happen, in my view, is that a lot of smaller charities or charities that rely on that sort of income stream won’t survive,” he added.

Mr Rolton said the smartest thing they did was to apply to be an essential service.

“As soon as we got wind that this (lockdown) could happen, we applied to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to be an essential service, and submitted a complete working plan on how we’re going to handle this . . .  which they really liked. Two days later, we were approved. Then we could move forward and take advantage of the facilities that were available. MSD helped us,” he said.

Civil Defence took four weeks to process their request, so it started delivering food parcels to SVDP only on the last week of the level 4.

“Hamilton City Council, knowing we were an essential service approved by the MSD, also supported us financially as well, and we could go back to ask for more if needed,” he said.

Greenlea Meats donated about six to eight tons of meat.

One recipient of the food parcel told SVDP that she almost cried after seeing the meats in the pack because they had not eaten meat in three days, he said.

Mr Rolton said stories like this give the volunteers and staff inspiration to carry on.

“They understand why we do things a certain way, why we’re here, which is to help the public,” he said.

Mr Rolton said they still need cash donations to cover operating costs.

“We’ve minimised everything else. We’ve started taking a cut on our pay ourselves just to make sure that everyone will survive,” he said. “When we open shops, there’s no reason for me to think that they are going to go back to that level of sales straightaway. It’s going to take time to build that up again.”

If you would like to make a financial contribution to St Vincent de Paul Hamilton, you can donate by direct credit to:

Bank account of Society of St Vincent de Paul

03 1355 0607033 00