Stories from the COVID-19 crisis June 2020

Aleshia Baker (Youth Worker with Te Ora Hou) getting ready to home deliver healthy kai packs to whanau during covid-19 lockdown.

Community helping community
“You only needed to understand that it would completely change people’s lives.” This was all the motivation Danny needed to make himself available as a volunteer to help in any way he could during the COVID 19 crisis. He is one of a network of community organisations and individuals who have leapt into action. Volunteering Northland have taken a role as broker, linking people who need help to organisations and volunteers who can provide it. In the last few weeks Danny has shopped, delivered medications, taken goods to homeless people, and delivered luggage to someone in quarantine. “I know what it’s like to be stressed”, says Danny, “and now it’s my turn to put something back into the community.”

In Kaikohe, Nalini had experience as a volunteer, and in the lockdown, she found she had time on her hands, so she contacted Volunteering Northland to see how she could help others. She has since been supporting three people with shopping, medications and conversation. “I’ve always assisted with my kuia and kaumatua,”says Nalini. “They took the time to nurture me and I believe in that manaakitanga.” Her generosity has been returned. “I’ve been quite spoiled by the people I look after,” she says. “You get what you give. Anything that uplifts my community is beneficial to me”.

At Alert Level 3 Kim Trigg became concerned about the elderly people who could not get out, so she set up the Facebook page “Help Kamo”, invited all her friends to join, “and it just spiraled out from there”. She contacted Volunteering Northland for help to reach people in need, and a group of volunteers now support about 13 households in Kamo.

In Kerikeri Katy Pulham also used the power of Facebook to generate community support wherever needed. As the administrator of the Kerikeri Community Noticeboard it was easy for her to put the call out for volunteers which she linked up with Volunteering Northland. She then went on to set up about 40 different Facebook groups that she calls “neighbourhood pods”, based around a small geographic area with about 100 members each. The idea was that if someone needed something it could be dropped off or picked up while on a walk in their local area. “The response has been amazing,” says Katy. “It’s really inspiring to see how people can pull together, actually being neighbours, getting to know each other. People’s kindness to each other is just incredible to see. It’s been wonderful to be part of.” Katy can see the pod pages carrying on into level 2. “People will still be in need. It’s an easy way to find out about older people who need help. They can fulfill Neighbourhood Watch functions. I never would have thought the neighbourhood pods would be so helpful.”

With no job in lockdown Katy also offered her time to support older people in Kerikeri. She helped an elderly woman living alone to move to a new house, for example, supporting her until she can move to Australia to be with family. “I’m very grateful that I’m able to help her,” says Katy. “My main focus is the elderly. Many already have quite isolated lives, so I think lockdown is hard for them. I’ve gotten to know all these elderly people. It has really enriched my life.”

Te Ora Hou is a community organisation based in Whangarei, normally focused on providing youth mentoring programmes and support for whanau. At the start of the lockdown Te Ora Hou youth workers were already busy contacting children and families from home. Then, supported by the Salvation Army, Te Ora Hou began to put together and deliver food parcels to families in need. “We talked amongst ourselves about how to be flexible. We wanted to be open to opportunities and gaps”, says Lou Davis, so when Volunteering Northland contacted them about the needs of older people, they expanded their scope again. Some people need help with shopping; some people need conversation to relieve the stress of social isolation. Lou says they are open to what these new roles might mean for them after the lockdown. “It’s not a time for us to retreat. We need to step up and fill the gaps; we need to think about how we help people stay connected with the community.”

Fleur Massey from the education-based organisation I Have a Dream describes how they have worked to preserve meaningful connections between whanau, Dreamers and their communities. “We quickly scrambled to set up a COVID 19 relief fund,” says Fleur, which they have used to provide food parcels to support whanau in need. They set up a Facebook page and virtual classrooms to help their Dreamers stay engaged. “We know it’s been tough for Whanau, but the positive feedback we have been getting has made effort worthwhile.”

Zainab is the coordinator of WINGS, an organisation supporting migrant women. She set up virtual groups and activities for her members, but she wanted to do something extra. “I wanted to help others who were strangers to me. I deal with a lot of women aged over 60 who are on their own, so I know how they would feel,” she says, so she registered with Volunteering Northland and was referred two women in their 70s who needed support with shopping and someone to talk to. “It gives me joy to reach out to people,” says Zainab, “and we’re all in the same boat.”

Linda and Elizabeth are both in their later years, and both live alone with no family nearby, and needed help with shopping so Age Concern put them in touch with Volunteering Northland. “When Lucy rang me, I was so relieved,” says Linda. “It was Saturday night for goodness sake! It meant everything. Someone just took all that stress off me. My family felt so grateful that there was someone up here to help.”

“It’s so good to have these local contacts,” says Elizabeth. “Every couple of days I get a phone call which is neat. It takes that isolation away. It’s absolutely wonderful to know that I can get in touch about anything.”

All our lives have changed, and some things will never be the same again, but in the midst of the crisis, and in the months ahead, generosity, compassion, reciprocity, and community connections will make us all stronger.

Story by Helen Frances, volunteer reporter for Volunteering Northland