The level of need is still at crisis - Kootuitui ki Papakura

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes
Kaimahi from Kootuitui ki Papakura helping the community during lockdown - Photo / Kootuitui ki Papakura Facebook

Kootuitui ki Papakura is an organisation in South Auckland that focuses on education, health and homes.  With the rate of unemployment in the area, they say the level of need is still at crisis.

During the lockdown period, Kootuitui ki Papakura says they contacted 350 families to assess the need and delivered food and other essential items. They say they’re now going back to those families to set a new agenda.

“The level of need is still at crisis. There’s huge unemployment in Papakura. People reported being laid off really quickly. They just lost their jobs and in the early stages didn’t know how to ask about the wage subsidy,” says CEO of Kootuitui ki Papakura Angela Gattung.

She says there's no doubt that the charitable organisation needs to set a new agenda for the tough months ahead.

The experiences of the last two months have taught Angela that they need to listen and respond to change, as they did during the lockdown.

After being contracted by Te Puni Kōkiri to help whānau with items like food boxes, Angela and her team contacted everyone on their own database, then moved on to vulnerable families in the six Papakura schools they work with.

“Families were all trying to cope,” she says. “Many of them, especially Māori whānau, were quite proud. If they approached us it’d be after they’d been trying hard to make do with what they had.”

Additional donations from individuals and other organisations enabled the small team to add 200 whānau to the 150 they were contracted to support.

“It was very time-intensive working with 350 whānau. When you think of all the individual conversations you can imagine how many hours it took. But it was fabulous.”

They collected data as they went, enabling them to tailor their deliveries to specific needs.

“We decided to do grocery boxes for families that couldn’t get out of the house. Some had family members with diabetic or other health needs, others needed baby products. So, we gave them grocery vouchers,” says Angela.

The local SuperValue sold them vouchers, packed food boxes and donated groceries. They distributed food bags put together by a local Sikh organisation and My Food Bag food boxes donated by an individual donor. 

A whānau who received support wrote, “The gift-card … filled our stomachs, which helps us to concentrate on finishing our paper and digital work. It also helps knowing others are looking out for us. You have made us feel happy and safe.”

Angela was particularly touched by one whānau who, even though they had little themselves, wanted to share the food box they received.

“They wrote saying, ‘I am blown away. We have also been helping my mum and her partner who are sub-contractors and it's been very tough so if it's ka pai, we will share half with them?’” she says. “Families tried to help each other.”

With the food delivery service ended, Kootuitui ki Papakura is gearing up for the long-haul recovery period. They’ll be finding space for themselves to work productively with other social service providers like Papakura Marae.

The key, Angela says, is in having “little partnerships with a targeted approach of engagement so we can keep going”.

Established in 2015 to provide services for a cluster of schools in Papakura, their core work is in weaving together education, health and homes. They support digital learning for students, health clinics in schools, and safe, healthy homes.

“What we’re doing now in the homes strand is totally different. We’re working so much harder and we don’t know where we’re going yet,” says Angela, reflecting on the value of the individual phone calls with whānau.

“Our kaupapa is we let the whānau tell us what they need rather than we decide what they need. Until we hear that it’s really hard to design a programme that’s going to help them. We’re grassroots and we’re not trying to do it all on our own.”

One whānau at a time – Kootuitui ki Papakura says they are listening and responding.