The Year in Review: Welfare & Services
The previous year at the Vinnies Food Bank in Newtown has seen several changes to the sizing of food parcels, reflecting the range of family sizes and different needs. Rather than simply “single” and “family” sizes, larger parcels are provided to larger families, and greater elements of choice have been introduced, with a checklist of foods added so that recipients can indicate which foods they prefer and which they don’t.
Overall, 425 food parcels worth $19,955 were given out over the financial year to a variety of recipients, who more often tend to be single males or sole parent families. While some packages were oneoffs, Food Bank Coordinator Sophie explains, there is now greater awareness that several weeks of food parcel assistance are sometimes needed to get the recipients through the situation that initially brought them to the Food Bank, often originating from unexpected expenses or struggles with addictions. Vinnies continues to meet the requests for food through providing a mixture of non-perishable goods donated in food drives at schools and churches with perishable goods such as eggs purchased weekly – a feature that makes Vinnies different from other food bank charities.
Looking ahead, an audit of the food chosen off the list in the last three months is being undertaken, in order to better ascertain which goods are needed, and to reduce those that aren’t. This moves the Food Bank to a more choice-orientated service, further empowering recipients. Sophie also mentions an idea of putting monetary values next to food, to give the recipients of food parcels better ideas of how to plan on a low budget and how meals can be put together in efficient ways, thus fostering a greater partnership with those on the other side of the service. Altogether, the Food Bank at Vinnies in Wellington is in an exploratory phase, one of new ideas and ways of providing their service, of more choice, and of consistent services that seek to meet the needs of those who may otherwise have gone hungry.
The Pregnancy Assistance service at Vinnies Newtown has been running smoothly for the last financial year, with new manager Rachel describing it as “business as usual”. In total, $12,810 worth of goods, including baby clothing, reusable cloth nappies, bedding, and maternity clothes, have been given out to 141 mothers, with many donated by other mothers hoping to see the clothes used by their own children put to further use. Most items are donated, although some are knitted by volunteers, especially warmer clothes for the colder months. As always, the mothers coming to Vinnies for support have been from a range of ages and cultural backgrounds, and all have found ample needs for their 0-to-6-month-old babies. Recently, however, there have been more requests for clothes for babies in the 6-to-12-month range, especially given that babies continue to grow quickly in this period, thus requiring further support. In response to this, Rachel has begun the process of increasing room to make space for clothing donations for this age bracket. In the coming year this service will be opened to mothers to support them in the long-term, thus strengthening the connection between Vinnies and low-income families in the Wellington region. Other future initiatives include network-building with midwifery groups, boarding house services, and ante-natal classes. This involves making Vinnies’ details and services more well-known, and working in collaboration with other groups to ensure that mothers in need are supported through all stages of their pregnancies. Such community action is the most effective way of alleviating the effects of poverty on new mothers, and working alongside other services to provide full support certainly seems to be the way forward for pregnancy assistance in the region.
The social work service, led by full-time social worker Kim, has seen both quiet and busy periods throughout the last financial year, with several challenges arising alongside some major success stories. In total, $18,036.50 worth of clothing, furniture and homeware has been distributed through the material support service. Successes on the advocacy side have included fighting a council housing policy to save someone from eviction, ensuring he was not left out on the street. Another initiative has been looking into digital poverty and the way that low-income families without the access to or ability to use the internet or computers find themselves locked out of welfare services. Conversations have been had with the Ministry of Social Development to look at the bigger picture of how poverty can have wide-ranging effects, especially in the use of technology. Housing issues for clients, highlighted by Kim as the biggest challenge, have arisen as a major trend throughout the previous year. Other common trends have been clients with addiction and mental health issues, especially in the context of paid work – without supportive employers, people facing these issues may be released from employment. Kim is thus solving these issues at the root to increase job security for her clients. Working with other services to ensure that clients aren’t hopping from one social worker to another or using multiple avenues of help is also a trend, something that must involve reducing frustration on the part of the client by making sure they are listened to and their needs are met in a sustainable way. For the next year, Kim mentioned her focus will partly be on the engagement process, and whether the onus is on Vinnies to bring services as opposed to waiting for potential clients to come to the office and ask. Working with the food bank service will be another important part of the year to come, especially in the ways that it can be made more beneficial nutritionally and educationally for families in need. Hopefully the success stories continue to come as Kim works tirelessly to provide advocacy and advice for those in our community.
On the whole, welfare services at Vinnies Newtown are seeing changes in many areas, including alterations to services to make them better suited to the various areas of need, new projects in the works, and different clients – 51% of clients were new to Vinnies. 63% of the clients were female, and 465 children and dependants of clients were assisted, showing the strong support Vinnies provides to low-income families. The challenge for the coming year will be to maintain a consistent service while putting into effect the changes that offer more choice for clients and more effective support throughout all areas of food parcels, pregnancy assistance, and social advocacy and advice.