BBM Food Bank owner Dave Letele welcomes Government funding but says it's never going to be enough

Dave Letele is the founder of BBM Food Bank.
Dave Letele is the founder of BBM Food Bank. Photo credit: RNZ

A Manukau food bank owner says additional funding announced for food banks goes a long way, but it is never going to be enough.

Acting Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni revealed a $6 million funding boost for food banks on Monday, saying there was demand for food support especially in communities hit by extreme weather events.

Priority would be given to those working in high-demand regions like Auckland, Tai Rāwhiti and Hawke's Bay, she said.

Founder of BBM Food Bank Dave Letele, also known as the Brown Buttabean, said the need had been greater than ever.

"So many people need the service, need the support, and it's not just people who've always been on the benefit either," he said.

"As the cost of living rises it's so many middle class people, people with jobs, people where both parents have jobs, it's just so hard to get by."

Letele gets messages on Facebook, sometimes at 1am or 2am, predominantly from mothers, "begging for food". It was heartbreaking, Letele said.

"It's extremely taxing mentally and emotionally, when you see the pain and you see the hurt, but what gets us by is our 'why' is helping people and you know that people are living better lives because you exist ... it's a good feeling."

It was especially tough for anyone struggling before Covid who was then caught up in flooding from the cyclones.

In terms of the extra $6m for food banks, every cent counted and he was grateful.

"The model is community, business and government - we all need to work together and long-term to help any social issue.

"We're lucky that we have a good profile that we can get out there and hustle to have corporate support from people like Foodstuffs.

"It's never going to be enough, but it goes a long way."

When disasters such as flooding strike, his community group and many others get out there straight away by using social media to highlight where the need is and then donations come in, Letele said.

"The first people to ring me up actually on the day when the floods happened was Foodstuffs. They gave us $20,000 straight away, that enabled us to go out and buy stock," he said.

The government is a bigger organisation so it takes a little longer, but the Ministry of Social Development was the first government organisation on the scene which enabled the food bank to do a lot of work, he said.

"Just out of that, just in Auckland, we've fully furnished 100 homes, you know fully furnished - beds, fridges, blankets, everything a family needs that weren't insured."

A few containers would be sent down to Hawke's Bay in the next week or two, he said.

The need for food was huge, he said. His organisation bought $18,000 of groceries last week "and that'll last us a couple of weeks".

'A lot of pain' as families turn to food banks

Vinnies Auckland general manager Delphina Soti said demand for its foodbank had tripled since Covid and the announcement of extra funding was a relief.

"We don't know what we would get - we're one of the bigger providers here, we're hoping we get a sufficient amount."

More than 20 percent of its clients were working families, and about the same proportion had never come to a foodbank before.

"A lot of these families, they're not coming every week.

"I guess when they're coming through they're really whakamā to come, they've exhausted all their other resources before they come.

"There's a lot of pain there for a lot of these families."