Kai, hope and clothes - Waka of Caring

By Mahina Hurkmans

With your contribution and my contribution, we will make progress.

That is the message demonstrated by Debbie Munroe who is affectionately known in Manurewa as ‘Aunty Deb’ or ‘Whaea Debs’.

Whaea Debs opened the doors of the ‘Waka of Caring’ centre ten weeks ago. Here locals in need receive free meals, free clothing, and free food parcels to take home. Waka of Caring achieves this with donations from sponsors and the local community.

"We have people walking in sad and then they go I need a food parcel, ‘whats the criteria?’

“I say our criteria is a smile and their face just beams," Debbie Munroe says. 

Aunty Debs’ journey to help the homeless began when she took to the streets of Manurewa seven years ago. Her dream was to create a space where she could do more to help families in need.

Waka of Caring is her dream come true. Munroe explains how it come into being. Whaea Debs received a phone call on behalf of an anonymous benefactor, who wanted to help. She explains:

"We have a sponsor, I don't know who the sponsor is, they sponsored us for two years for the building.

“They are gonna pay for our power for a year.

“We have another sponsor and I don't know who it is that has paid for the internet and the landline."

Since opening their doors, Waka of Caring have had over two thousand people from near and far walk in for assistance.

"Between a hundred and a hundred and fifty people every day, not all come for kai, not all come for clothes.

“A lot come just to sit, talk get a hug you know there's a lot of lonely people out there," Aunty Deb says.

Munroe is not on her own. Aunty Deb has a team of seven, who work with her throughout the day and night. One of her team, Jack Paraha from Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi, works at the waka to give back to the community.

Paraha explains, how important this is to people living on the streets.

"Just giving back. What I took for advantage of back in my days from growing up as a tamaiti, but giving the love and seeing the smiles on people's faces and the happiness and results that's awesome.”

Seven years of helping the homeless has taught her the importance of listening to them. Something she says, is not done enough. Her message for other organisations in the same space is:

"Come down and see what we do. Meet the people, talk to the people.

“Listen to what their needs are cause no one is listening to what their needs are.

“Everyone assumes they know what they're doing, well they're not doing a very good job.

“If they were, we wouldn't have to do this."