Ko mātou | Who we are
"Kai Aroha started on the streets of Greerton, Tauranga in 2016, when homelessness and lack of housing was on the rise. Many people were sleeping on the streets, in the doorways of businesses under the safety of lights and security cameras and in local parks. Within our capacity, we, the Kai Aroha team of volunteers, wanted to do something to alleviate the effects of homelessness and poverty in our community. We not only wanted to feed the puku, we wanted to feed their soul, with manaakitanga kindness and ngākau aroha love....
one meal at a time".
Ō mātou kōrero | Our story
In 2014 / 2015 it was becoming obvious that homelessness was on the rise in Aotearoa New Zealand. My husband Tawhai and I, our whānau and our extended whānau wanted to do something to alleviate the pressure of homelessness but we weren't quite sure how to as such. So we leaned on what we knew to do as Māori, which is to extend manaakitanga in helping those in need in our community. We started buying supplies like snack packs and stocking them in the boot of our car as there were many times someone would knock on our car window asking if we had money, food or a blanket. We never gave money, but we did give kai. Sometimes we were able to get blankets, sleeping bags and tents from locals, friends and whānau and hand them out to those sleeping rough.
We wanted to help our community within our capacity, both time capacity and finance capacity and over a longer period of...time. We had to be realistic and ask ourselves, can we afford to do this? All it took was a little bit of faith, belief that we can make a difference and twenty dollars a week. That was our set putea, our budget at that time, twenty dollars per week or forty dollars per fortnight to make hearty soup, buns and hot cuppas. My whānau and I had needs and struggled at times but those whānau out there on the street were in far greater need than us. Their situations were very sad indeed.
Over the months we met a lot of people from all walks of life who were homeless or living in poor housing situations but there was this one particular elderly man (I think it was 2015) who stood out, and he lived at a bus stop in Greerton for a short time. We brought him a new pillow because his one was so paru (dirty). We’d take him coffee and kai. He told us, "I can't be helped, I'm beyond help". This was heartbreaking to hear. Then, one day my son and I went to visit him and to our surprise, karekau e kitea, no where to be seen. We learned that particular day that he had died. It was so sad, I thought to myself, “how many more will die on the street, out in the cold and alone this winter?” An image of that old man and his words are forever ingrained in my memory, as well as the stories of many others, including the elderly women on the sidewalk with her two dogs to protect her at night; the solo māmā living in a car with her two kids; the whānau living in their van where dad goes to work during the day and his work colleagues and employers had no idea that he was returning each night to his wife and kids in the van, at the park and showering under a tap in the dark of night so no one could see; the whānau of five who lived in a tent, got evicted from their whare because the owner was moving back in and were unsuccessful in finding a new rental property; a single man who lost his part time rep job because a colleague told his boss that he was using the company car to sleep in, he couldn't afford to rent his own place. That man lost the company car, yet still had his job but lived in a small tent at the park and hid his gear each day amongst rocks by the sea. There are many, many stories, these are just a taster of their lived experiences as people who are homeless because of circumstances. Many whānau are circumstantially homeless and do not ask to be homeless.
Soon after, I said to my husband “I want us to feed the homeless people in Greerton, for as long as we can” and he looked at me and without a hesitation he replied “I will make the soup”. Pakō! Boom! we were on! This was the beginning of when we unofficially-officially set up Kai Aroha outside the ANZ bank on Cameron Road, Greerton. We had the support of Tauranga City Council, some local businesses and many local residents. Many people jumped on board to help us, we couldn't believe the response on social media, it was nuts! From there, the Kai Aroha team grew and so did our kaupapa. We now have a core team who are so dedicated to the kaupapa mission of Kai Aroha in helping to feed our hungry community. They not only sacrifice their Friday nights with their families to help others, they do so much more! My team are committed to working together as one. Without the team of volunteers, without people to help, there would be no Kai Aroha! He nui taku aroha ki te whānau a Kai Aroha.
Kai Aroha then moved from the bank and set up at our second location at St. George's op shop car park, we were there for a couple of years. Now that we have not been there for some time, the St George's Church continue to support Kai Aroha. We are so very blessed to have their support.
There is still so much more mahi to be done. We all have resources, skills and time to make a difference to others, don't ever think that you don't. Being a practising visual artist and educator, I wanted to utilise the visual arts to make a difference and raise more awareness in support for the impoverished and those experiencing every form of homelessness. This became the point of difference that impacted the community positively because the visual arts brought community together, becoming the conversational platform in raising awareness for the annual World Homeless Day (WHD) event held annually across the globe on October 10. Kai Aroha instigated the first WHD event in the Bay of Plenty in 2017 and has since been doing art projects from billboards to temporary outdoor art installations, an art exhibition and a colouring in competition and we have future plans for art projects on WHD.
Overall, the love and support of community for our mahi in helping others, far outweighed the complaints and negative talk we initially received when we first set up. My stance in response to that was to keep our calm, stay focussed on our mission, remember who are we are here for and let our mahi, our aroha be our greatest weapon in fighting stereotypes and smashing through barriers. Kai Aroha' purpose is to feed our hungry community by nourishing the body, heart and soul with compassion, kindness and equity. We are here to be a voice for the vulnerable in our community.
Our story continues, there is so much more to share as we continue to impact the lives of those who simply need to feel loved by their community.
On behalf of Kai Aroha, I thank you all for your continued support and your love. Without you, our mahi in the community would surely be a struggle.
You are greatly appreciated,
ngā mihi nui
Tania and team Kai Aroha