While COVID-19 lockdown rules have now been eased, many New Zealand foodbanks remain under huge pressure as breadwinners lose their jobs and savings run dry.
To help keep up with this demand and to provide something a bit different from the regular food box items, a charity set up by farmers is connecting donated produce from farmers with processors and foodbanks.
Meat the Need founders Siobhan O'Malley and Wayne Langford
Since it started in mid-April, meat from more than 200 animals, including cattle, sheep and deer, has been donated to food banks around the South Island, enough for a staggering 90,000 meals for vulnerable families!
The idea spawned about 18 months ago when Wayne, who is well known for his YOLO (You Only Live Once) outlook, donated some mince to his local food bank.
"Every day I look to do something to say that I've lived for that day," he says of his philosophy.
“That was one of my daily challenges. I asked them how long it would last, thinking it would only be a couple of days, but when they said a couple of months I started to think ‘wow, what could we do in Golden Bay, what could we do in Nelson, then Christchurch and eventually New Zealand?’”
After connecting with Siobhan and pitching a proposal to Silver Ferns Farms, ‘Meat The Need’ was born.
Originally scheduled for a June launch, the start date was brought forward to help farmers reach those hit hardest by the economic fallout of the coronavirus lockdown.
The finished product ready to distribute
“The scheme was always going to happen but COVID-19 was a game changer for us because it gave a sense of urgency to people in our supply chain”, says Siobhan. “We were all on the same page and there was the feeling that this really needs to happen, and it needs to happen fast, so let’s get it done.”
The Christchurch City Mission is amongst the grateful recipients
Wayne and Siobhan say many farmers often donate on a smaller scale to their local food banks when they can, but there hadn't been a scheme to connect the dots between willing farmers and community organisations in need of a regular, reliable supply.
"We wanted to design a process that allowed farmers to donate a whole animal at seasonal times when they are able and smooth out the supply for food banks, so they get quality produce in regular amounts”, Siobhan says. “The response from farmers has been fantastic. They say the process is so easy and as high-quality food producers it’s a great way for them to make a real difference in their communities.”
And it really is high quality, because 'Meat The Need' provides premium product. “This is the best product we have”, says Siobhan. “It might be mince but it’s prime export quality mince. It’s great protein and good quality nutrition.”
While the majority of donations so far have been from the South Island, the scheme is now being rolled out in the North Island.
“We realise that some North Island farmers have been doing it tough this year and may not be able to donate at the moment, but we’re in it for the long haul, not just while COVID-19 is around”, says Wayne. “This is a long-term project and it’s going to keep getting bigger and better. We’ve already been contacted by other primary sectors producers of fruit and vegetables to ask if they can get onboard too.”
Farmers can donate livestock via the Meat the Need website, or through Silver Fern Farms stock agents.