• KiwiHarvest's two tonne refrigerated truck at the Rosedale warehouse.

KiwiHarvest – Our journey

By Janice Blomgren

From small beginnings (December 2016, and my brainwave!), a food rescue service for the North Shore! The initial feeling was that the North Shore was too affluent, we wouldn’t get the community’s support, how would we pay for it? As they say, the rest is history.

It started as a project with a small group of enthusiasts from Takapuna North Rotary Club. The KiwiHarvest parent had started three years earlier in Dunedin, and we adopted their practices and disciplines on food standards and structures, which was a great help. From the outset we have been different, depending 100% on volunteers with low operating costs, working closely with our recipients and suppliers. The key is to balance each day’s demand with available supply so that the food is always fresh and wholesome.

We started deliveries in May 2017 with three recipients and a volunteer’s Highlander station wagon. Volumes built quickly, and we realised a station wagon could not cope. Two of our volunteers funded the purchase of a refrigerated van and this went into service in late June. We built up eventually to 30 volunteers, 30 recipients and 12 supermarkets with support from five local sponsors. We worked three days a week, 8am to 2pm. We were lucky enough to have a shed and a yard to house the van and provide a small amount of chilled and frozen storage. The aim was an empty van at the end of the day. It was busy, rewarding and at times tense!

Four other Rotary clubs then joined Takapuna North to fund the van purchase, repaying the original seed funding. The arrangement was formalised with KiwiHarvest in a Memorandum of Understanding that provided for the operation to cede to them, including ownership of the van. In September 2018 that duly took place. By this time our area covered most of the North Shore up to Orewa and the Whangaparaoa peninsula. Suppliers included local supermarkets, food kitchens and local manufacturers. We proved conclusively that there was a real need for supplementary food to those needy areas on the North Shore, and that the community responded wonderfully through volunteers driving and assisting in the van.

In 2019 the scale of the KiwiHarvest service had grown to be national, North Shore continuing in its volunteer based retail service as one of five branches, with the rest of the country moving to a bulk distribution wholesale business. As part of this change, we employed a professional driver, moving to a five days a week service. With the onset of Covid-19 in March 2020 this proved to have been a life saver. We were deemed an essential service. However, with the majority of volunteers aged over 70, we could now still continue, but with very limited volunteer involvement. With lockdown, demand for food sky-rocketed. Government funded a national bulk food distribution business that was complementary to KiwiHarvest, and in addition provided us with significant short term operational funding.

In February 2021 we moved into a large warehouse in Rosedale with ample chilled and frozen storage space. The Hiace van has been replaced with a two tonne refrigerated truck, and we now have the logistics for a central bulk supply with direct delivery to the North Shore. It is a major change. The region we supply has now extended to Wellsford in the north and Helensville in the west. The role for volunteers is less, but with the physical demands of a near doubling of food demand, better materials handling and a greater focus on eliminating food waste, the change is positive. We are always looking for ‘robust’ volunteers!

To date the North Shore has delivered more than 290,610kg to food hubs, mainly churches, marae, foodbanks and community centres.

So we have come a long way. My abiding memory is of the smiles from the children at Belmont Primary when we made the first delivery of bread and apples. Also that of Francis, the Milford New World logistics manager, when he heard we were delivering to The Fono, the Pacific Islanders food bank in Northcote. It’s been a great and rewarding journey.

Special thanks to our sponsors who have made this all possible: Partners Life, Benefitz, Pak'nSave Albany, Countdown, and the New Worlds, as well as many in-kind supporters. We could not have helped so many families on the North Shore without your support.

If you have any interest in joining our team, either as sponsors or volunteers, please contact me, Janice Blomgren at 0800 601 609. Visit: www.kiwiharvest.org.nz