Food impact as mission
By Zoë Cromwell | New Zealand in Pacific Asia
Good Neighbour HQ in Tauranga, New Zealand, is a well-oiled machine, intent on making a gospel impact. The first thing you notice is how fast things happen. Two rescue trucks bring in food collected from supermarkets. Food is sorted. Food goes out. By 2 p.m. the shelves are empty again, waiting for tomorrow’s collection.
Teams of Good Neighbour volunteers take all the items deemed unsaleable — the fruit, veggies, bread and other food at its best-by date, the items with damaged packaging — and if they are still good to eat, placing them in cartons for today’s list from the 60 recipient groups. Some items are immediately stowed in the chiller or freezer. Everything is weighed coming in and going out, so that Good Neighbour knows what is wasted; 90% of all the rescued food is redistributed for people to eat. Only 1% (mainly packaging) goes to landfill. The remainder is picked up by pig farmers.
The sorts of items each community group is looking for are written beside its cartons. For example, Mockingbird Trust wants gluten-free. Tauranga Boys College Pacifica Programme wants breakfast things to feed 50 hungry boys before school. And Vinnie’s Loaves & Fishes wants items for 400 school lunches a week.
SIM New Zealand mission partners John and Jackie Paine started Good Neighbour’s food impact section five years ago with one friend, just one supermarket and two charities, driving cars around, picking up food. “We sorted it all out on the Baptist Church steps.” It grew very rapidly from there and now they have a purpose-renovated building and 180 food rescue volunteers.
John says everything they did as mission partners in Ethiopia and then at home in New Zealand has been valuable experience for this. “I think it’s a natural fit for Jackie and me, and God has opened the doors here in ways that we would never have imagined. It’s putting legs on the gospel… we’ve been really challenged.”
“Food is so central – it’s part of everything we do in communities,” John says. “And now we’ve got the kitchen, the standard of food is really high. When you get people around a table, that’s when stuff happens. You get relaxed, start eating, ideas flow and people’s feelings are shared.” He and Jackie say that sharing their faith comes naturally as volunteers get to know them. “We hold it up with an open hand, and we expect them to see God work. We never want to lose that, trying to partner with what God is doing in the lives of people.
“We’re given freedom to share because people have a desire to be open to the spiritual things, to consider that there’s ‘someone greater than ourselves involved.’”
Jackie adds, “It’s as you walk alongside people. So many volunteers have been with us for years, so we have that opportunity for them to see us on a day to day basis. Every new thing we do, we know that we’re serving a God of abundant ideas and creativity.”
As I look around, the single biggest food category brought in is bread. Mountains of it. Each community group is given some, from Tauranga Foodbank to Toi Ohomai Polytech. Just as well Corrine from Maketu Health and Social Services is coming today, because their label states: “All the remaining bread.” She redistributes to 13 extended families. The university and polytech take food to support their students who can’t afford to eat well, leaving it on tables for them to help themselves. And since a professional kitchen was opened on the premises a few months ago, some of the food goes there too.
When the building was renovated over the past year, the kitchen was included as an extension of Good Neighbour’s community focus, where professional chefs would train people who needed employment or a boost into further study. Right now, small groups of two or three secondary students come in each day from Tauranga Boys’ College. They’re chosen by the school and are clearly loving the chance to work in a real-world catering situation, under the supervision of a chef and two volunteers.
“We’re seeing God work in unexpected ways,” Jackie says. “These boys coming in who haven’t fitted anywhere, failing at school, no one thinks they can do anything, and they’re in that kitchen creating product for sale, becoming self-confident, making morning tea for all our volunteers and have just become part of the organisation in a very short time. This is really exciting.
“Our bottom line for the kitchen is that it has to be a place where someone will be able to get employment or further education. They have to have some spark in there that we can get them to a better place.” So, this scheme, in bringing together food seen as unsaleable and people seen as unemployable, aims to provide hope for the future. It’s being trialled now with Tauranga Boys College, but in future other schools in the area should be able to send students too.
Good Neighbour diverts more than 9 tonnes of rescued food a week to community organisations who share it with many groups around Tauranga. In 2015 they were able to save 31 tonnes; this year it is projected to be 500 tonnes, the equivalent in value of $3,150,000 worth of food. Their mission is to provide practical opportunities for people to support one another, thereby transforming lives and neighbourhoods – a truly biblical idea!
Globally, the food wasted would be enough to feed the world’s hungry four times over. Good Neighbour nourishes many who physically go unfed and delivers the ultimate sustenance, Jesus, as the Bread of Life.
Pray for Good Neighbour
John and Jackie are thankful for the exciting projects that they are involved with and pray for continued energy to keep moving forward, “That God would give us good health, creative ideas and wisdom for Good Neighbour.”
This article first appeared on SIM New Zealand's site. Check out their other stories about what God is doing in and through New Zealand.