Cooking and caring a ‘sweet release’ for Kiwi Change Maker

  • 11/06/2020
  • Sponsored by - Dell
Kristine Bartley
Kristine Bartley Photo credit: Supplied

After battling an autoimmune disease and creating a popular Wellington vegan cafe Kristine Bartley has been awarded a well-deserved Dell XPS 13 laptop.

Dell is recognising individuals who go above and beyond to support and shape a better future for their communities as part of their Change Maker campaign.

Kristine started Sweet Release Cakes and Treats six years ago in the heart of Wellington. Since its inception, the close-knit team of eight has come up with some pretty incredible sustainable and community-focused initiatives.

One of Kristine’s celebrated initiatives is Pay it Forward - born out of the COVID-19 pandemic really took off, finding a following among those who wanted to donate a free meal, and those who needed to eat one.

"This was an idea that lingered in my head during lockdown. When I was a new business starting out and figuring everything else out I contributed to similar programs.

"During the lockdown I started feeling anxious about everything - people losing their jobs and how would Wellington be able to feed its people? By then we had 10,000 Facebook followers and I felt an obligation to make the most of it.

"So we decided to start Pay it Forward, and people can come in directly to the cafe and get a free meal as we’re open seven days a week. It’s accessible for all people who want a meal without any judgement about why they need it."

The team jumped on board and were keen to do it. “We smashed out possible scenarios and decided there wouldn’t be any questions asked about why someone wanted a meal, we didn’t want people to lose dignity to get it.

"I think during the pandemic I wanted to proactively look for kindness and I was getting worked up about all the negative news, and felt like we really needed some good news. And this initiative just proves how kind people really are. I was just the person in the middle," Kristine says.

Last weekend a board with vouchers on it was set up, where people can simply pick a voucher from the wall and take it to the counter for their free meal.


Cooking and caring a ‘sweet release’ for Kiwi Change Maker
Photo credit: Supplied

"It’s very heartening to see so many people buying meals. I’m so proud of our Wellington community," she says. "People have gotten together to feed anyone who needs a free meal."

While working in IT Kristine was diagnosed with Graves disease - an autoimmune disorder causing an overactive thyroid. 

Sweet Release tells a story about how Kristine discovered her love for baking. "I was sick for eight months stuck in bed watching cooking shows and I had never baked before."

After falling ill a second time Kristine required intensive radiation treatment and went into isolation where she would practice baking by herself. 

She also created the Sweet Release’s Facebook page and quickly the demand for Kristine’s sweet treats became hard to ignore, so six years ago Sweet Release opened its doors on Willis St - right in the centre of Wellington.

"At first Sweet Release wasn’t a vegan store but then my thyroid flared up again and as a last resort I decided to become a vegan, and everything has been normal ever since. Also, I became sick of having a five minute conversation every time I tried to find food I could eat."

Another initiative is the Vegan Vault, a night market that meets once a month, and currently has 26 stall holders. The idea is to showcase and support local vegan businesses, and bring the Wellington community together  "It’s also a place where people can come and eat anything they want without having a five minute conversation," explains Kristine.

At the end of last year the team started Not a Butcher - a weekly vegan subscription service across New Zealand.

Kristine admits she grew up poor in the Philippines. Her mum left the family to work in New Zealand and provide for them. Often her family would only have one meal a day, and mostly this would just be rice and coffee. She now has a tattoo with the words ‘rice and coffee’, and she says this gives her motivation to help others. 

"I'm not interested in working to make a lot of money. I’ve worked in IT before and I feel like I have more than I need," she says.


Cooking and caring a ‘sweet release’ for Kiwi Change Maker
Photo credit: Supplied

Newshub agrees the first Dell XPS 13 laptop has found a deserving owner, and it came to Kristine at just the right time too.

"My current laptop is eight years old and doesn’t run without a charger plugged in."

"So this new laptop will enable me to be more productive and get more things done. It allows me to work remotely and hopefully help more people too."

If you know someone who goes that extra mile to support and shape a better future for their communities, nominate them here and they could be the next winner of a brand new Dell XPS 13 laptop.

This article is brought to you by Dell