As temperatures start to drop ahead of winter, more than 100 families in the Hauraki region have been gifted firewood to help keep them warm.
It comes after a local kuia, Nancye Gage, expressed concerns that many families were unable to source their own wood due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Amelia Williams, executive chair of Ngati Tara Tokanui Trust, says she wrote to the Prime Minister, the Department of Conservation (DoC), and forestry company Rayonier Matariki Forests to see if a solution to the problem could be found.
"Many Māori whanau struggle to stay warm over winter as buying firewood is just not affordable," said Williams. "Usually firewood is collected from farms or roadsides but this year, we are emerging from isolation straight into the colder winter months."
After six weeks of planning, firewood is now in the process of being distributed to those in need in Thames, Paeroa, Waihi, Te Puru and Te Aroha.
The wood came from non-merchantable trees on Rayonier Matariki Forests' plantations in Tairua and Athenree Forests. Normally the trees would have been processed into high-quality products but as it was unable to be processed during the level 4 lockdown it degraded.
The wood was collected and loaded onto trucks and then transported to various marae in Hauraki, as well as to DoC's Hauraki District office in Thames, before being cut up and distributed to families.
"While there are many families living in unbelievably challenging conditions - some with up to 15 people living in the one house - we needed to prioritise our support to our most vulnerable who are kaumatua more than 70 years of age with children and mokopuna in the house, solo parents and at-risk families on low incomes," Williams said.
The wood will be distributed over the next two weeks.