Foodbank forced to cut 70 pct of recipients as Government funding for charity sector dries up

Letele said the process of cutting families from its list had been "a nightmare".
Letele said the process of cutting families from its list had been "a nightmare". Photo credit: RNZ

A well-known foodbank is being forced to massively scale back what it can offer as Government funding dries up.  

The foodbank, run by influential social worker Dave Letele, is being forced to slash 500 of the 700 families on its free food parcel service.  

At its peak, BBM FoodShare cost $1 million a year to run and was providing parcels to 700 families, but Letele said that in full operation it could potentially help 1000 families.   

Without Government funding in 2024, the foodbank has had to reduce its staff and cut back food supplies to schools and community groups. 

The Ministry of Social Development, which also funds two staff at BBM's gym, provided $90,000 in 2023.   

This year, BBM received "zero from the system".  

Letele said the process of cutting families from its list had been "a nightmare".   

However, he admitted "we could see it coming".  

He was not surprised that the new Government had not provided funding for 2024 and added that community groups are often taken for granted by all governments.   

Asked about the process of cutting 500 families from BBM Foodshare's food parcel service, Letele admitted, "I can't do it, the team does it".  

They looked at various factors to make the decisions about who would be cut, but Letele said it "weighs on you massively".  

He said BBM FoodShare could reliably support 200 families at the moment with funding from donations and corporate support from Meat the Need, Foodstuffs, Sanitarium and NZ Food Network.  

However, he said maintaining this funding would be a lot more difficult if they didn't have a prominent social profile and similar food bank services were really struggling, with some he knew of going under.   

As New Zealand's charity sector battles to provide the necessary support, Variety CEO Susan Glasgow said disadvantaged Kiwis are facing a "cost-of-surviving crisis".  

Data from Tatauranga/Stats NZ published last month shows about 202,000 kids are living below the poverty line, after deducting housing costs, in the year to June 2023. That's an increase of about 22 percent on the year prior.  

Variety supports children living in poverty and much of the funding comes from their Kiwi Kid sponsorship programme, whereby donations of $50 a month go towards providing a child with the "essentials they need to thrive, including school uniforms, sturdy shoes and warm bedding".

Glasgow said she is "consistently astounded by the generosity of those willing to help and support these children".

However, because economic conditions are so tight for so many, "the need of the community is growing as well".  

Variety has recently launched a national Crisis Appeal with hopes of attracting 2500 people to sponsor a child on the waitlist, some of whom have been on for over a year.  

Variety currently receives funding from Government agency Sport New Zealand but this is due to end in April 2025. 

The funding goes toward ensuring disadvantaged children can stay active and engaged in play, active recreation, and sport but without the funding, Glasgow it will take a big push for Variety to keep up their work in the space.  

Letele has spoken out strongly against suggestions from Act's leader, David Seymour, that cuts could be made to free school meal provision.  

He said BBM saw a huge spike in demand over the school holidays when families struggled to feed children without the programme.  

Glasgow agreed saying without free school lunches, caregivers of those in the programme would be battling to find alternative ways to feed their children.   

Glasgow said that these caregivers are already "making decisions that no parent or caregiver should have to make in terms of whether they eat before they go to work or whether their child gets a meal at the end of the day".  

Letele hopes his latest initiative, BBM recruitment, alongside other initiatives like BBM's online fitness programme, will eventually fully sustain the food parcel programme.   

"I never really wanted to be reliant on Government funding at all, the Government have never been huge supporters of ours" he said.  

Glasgow agreed, "no one government and no one agency is going to solve this problem".  

BBM recruitment, began on Sunday and has gotten off to a great start, Letele said.   

"BBM Recruitment is the next step in the BBM movement. We have hundreds of motivated people looking to take their skills into new employment, and we're here to help connect them up with the right employers," the BBM website advertises.  

"We've had a huge response from people looking for work," Letele said. 

He emphasises BBM recruitment is not just helping people into work but providing wrap-around support to keep them in work as well.   

"You don't just get a job and all of a sudden you're on your feet," he said.  

He recalled the first worker he had helped through BBM before the recruitment initiative formerly began.   

Two years ago, a woman approached Letele via Instagram. Her partner didn't believe her baby was his and kicked her out of their home. The woman was from Zimbabwe and had no family or support networks in Aotearoa.   

He got her somewhere to live and connected her to the BBM foodbank and since then she has completed a welding course and gone from $600 a week to $1200.   

Letele said politicians on the right often "don't understand how hard it can be to get back on your feet if you don't have a network".  

"If you don't have support, you're f**ked," Letele said.  

He wants BBM to provide that support and help people help themselves.   

Donations to the BBM programme can be made here:

Children can be sponsored through Variety here: