Throughout the Level 4 lockdown, many have lost their primary sources of income. The lockdown has not affected everyone equally; those already struggling, or in a precarious financial position, will have had a very different lockdown experience to those comfortably tucked away in their homes enjoying time spent in their bubble.
The government’s tertiary student support package allows students to borrow up to $2000 in course related costs, up from $1000. However, according to the office of Minister for Education Chris Hipkins, these funds must be used to cover costs directly related to study – not food or rent.
Over the last four weeks, some students have experienced a decrease in income. For students who depend on casual work in industries like hospitality, earnings have drastically reduced.
One Auckland student who spoke to Craccum said he is almost unable to pay his rent, and depends on borrowing from Studylink to make ends meet during the lockdown. He previously worked casual shifts often to pick up more income, but has been unable to do so during the nationwide lockdown.
Even before the lockdown, poverty has been a hallmark of the student experience in New Zealand. A 2017 Unitec survey of 1,964 students found that two-thirds of students had considered leaving study due to financial pressures. 55% of students “did not have enough income to meet their living costs at some stage in the past 12 months”. Māori and Pasifika students were even more likely to report facing financial hardship.
However, New Zealand’s experience at alert level 4 has shed light on some of the ways in which the generosity of communities can help our most vulnerable – in or out of lockdown. Pātaka kai are community pantries where anyone can donate food and take food as needed. They have been around much longer than the lockdown, and operate all over New Zealand. In Auckland alone, upwards of 50 pātaka kai exist serving the communities they are located in.
Unlike some other means of accessing food, pātaka kai can be visited at any time of the day or night. Anyone, regardless of financial position, can take food from a pātaka kai with no judgement. In that way, anyone who needs some quick help can get it. Those who may not be eligible for government assistance but need food are able to access some.
Pātaka kai, along with other community-based food programmes, was deemed an essential social service on the 3rd of April, just over a week into the lockdown. However, they are only able to operate in “high need areas”, meaning that many pātaka kai have closed for the lockdown. Those that remain open are taking a number of hygiene precautions to protect against COVID-19. Advocates of pātaka kai contacted Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta to push for the reopening of pātaka kai.
Lisa Nepia, a pātaka kai kaitiaki in Hamilton, says she was shut down at the start of the lockdown by police. She has since been granted essential service status, and been able to work with a team of five to keep the pātaka kai stocked and deliver food and hygiene supplies to those in need. Nepia’s team has delivered boxes of supplies to families, students and Waikato University halls of residence.
Pātaka kai all around New Zealand benefit from partnership with local businesses and organisations. The pātaka kai that Nepia takes care of last week stocked bags of flour and rice from a Four Square, feijoas from a local childcare centre and hygiene supplies from a healthcare provider. In Auckland, many pātaka kai are supported by neighbourhood supermarkets, and Unitec has built pātaka kai for those wanting to start one in their community.
“The community have come together in support of food donations…I love what I do and I am very resourceful, and I love seeing our people work together in any way they can to ensure we do our best to meet people’s needs,” says Nepia.
Nepia highlights an important point; those within communities are often the most knowledgeable about their communities needs, and in the best position to meet these. For a long time, community-led initiatives have been at the forefront of addressing issues like food insecurity. The fact that so many of our community social services, like pātaka kai, are able to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic only affirms the fact that the efforts of volunteers, the work of non-profit organisations and donations from the public are essential to the functioning of our society.
If you are a student in need of support at this time, you can find more information on the ‘Student Support’ pages of this week’s issue. The university and the AUSA have a number of resources available for students in need, and a number of community organisations such as the Salvation Army, Foodbank NZ, the Auckland City Mission and the Auckland Council are providing food and welfare parcels for those who meet each organisation’s eligibility requirements.