Waiariki Whānau Mentoring give helping hands for Whakatāne

By Mahina Hurkmans

Waiariki Whānau Mentoring are familiar faces in the Whakatāne community for the help they provide to vulnerable families. Together with local gang members, they are out in the community today helping where they can. 

"A full table gives whānau a place of peace and also joy," says Waata Heathcote, of Waiariki Whanau Mentoring.

Waiariki Whānau Mentoring have been going out into the community to help struggling families in these tough times, who are usually pushed to the side or too shy to ask for help. 

Waata says. "Today and the last six weeks have been about COVID-19 and getting into the community to support the whānau, so when I talk about supporting the whānau it's our most marginalised whānau, the vulnerable of the vulnerable."

They only have a small team at Waiariki Whānau Mentoring but with the help of local gang members who volunteer their time due to the love, they have for the community and the families.

Marley Taipeti says, "Being from the neighbourhood, it helps people, you know, sort of engage with us better."

"To come to a place where we can walk through these doors, which many instances others find difficult to get in to, but for us because of the relationship that we have," says Waata.

Te Kuru White (Ngāti Awa) says, "We are familiar faces, person to person, ear to ear and heart to heart."

The support and care are felt throughout the community.

Haki Tamihana says, "For all of us that need help and that is too shy, because Māori can be shy when they're getting something for free, there's no such thing as free. So for them to give like this, man it's solid."

"It feels choice, it feels good to give back for a long time," says Marley. 

"I've bloody taken from the neighbourhood - its time to give back."

Mahinaarangi Wallace (Tūhoe) says, "It's just an awesome feeling when you have your own people coming over to you, not some strangers." 

But it is not just about delivering food.

"We are getting calls of crisis from our whānau because of the trust that they have in us to be able to share without being judged," says Waata. 

A total of 120 boxes loaded with food are being distributed throughout the town to many families.