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Source: Massey University

Supreme Award winner Veronica Shale (centre), from Fair Food Charitable Trust, with guests at the NZ Food Heroes 2020 gala event.

A gala dinner to celebrate “food heroes” who fed communities in cities and rural areas during the pandemic lockdown was one of the key events to take place on Auckland’s first day in Alert Level 1.

Winners in seven categories of the unique New Zealand Food Heroes 2020 awards – a campaign that sprouted from the annual New Zealand Food Awards to capture the impact of COVID-19 – were announced last night from 48 finalists selected from over 340 nominations. 

They represent Aotearoa’s unsung food heroes – including a tourism company, industry bodies, community groups, small-town supermarket workers and cafés. 

Transforming tonnes of surplus food from supermarkets – including 26,000 eggs – into fresh food parcels for thousands of people in need during lockdown saw West Auckland-based Fair Food Charitable Trust named the country’s ultimate “food hero”, winning the Massey University Supreme Winner NZ Food Heroes Award.

Veronica Shale, Executive Director at Fair Food Charitable Trust, says the award is an acknowledgement of a huge community effort to help people in need. “When COVID hit, our community groups and businesses stepped in to volunteer their trucks, forklifts, their hearts, heads, minds and mana, which was a phenomenal response and helped us to respond at the scale we did.”

The most rewarding aspect of the trust’s work, for her, was realising; “we are all connected, whether as a community, a country, a supply chain. Every step in that chain is important, whether you’re a grower, or a producer or a manufacturer or a food rescuer – we’ve all got a role to play in just loving and respecting our food.”

The toughest part was “turning up to food banks during the second or third week of lockdown to extraordinarily long lines of cars – cars you never expect to see in a food bank.”

Veronica reckons Kiwis’ sense of community is what sets us apart as a nation – and she’s chuffed that Kiwis “stepped up at that time to help feed people and not dump really good food in landfill, and that’s what we’re about – feeding people and looking after the planet.”

Also winners of the Greater Good NZ Food Heroes Award, Fair Food Charitable Trust was chosen as the Supreme Winner for “the way it demonstrated excellent team work and leadership in order to significantly upscale a food rescue and distribution service to provide food for over 20,000 people in need a week.” 

In 2019 they rescued 121 tons of food (equal to 348,000 meals) – then due to COVID-19, they radically scaled up their response rescuing on average 143 tonnes (over 400,000 meals) per month in 2020. 

Founded in 2011, Fair Food was operating as a mobile food rescue operation in West Auckland. To meet increased demand they set up distribution bases in Oratia, Avondale, Henderson and Avondale. The organisation was nominated for upscaling efforts during the pandemic and building on a legacy of rescuing surplus fit-to-eat food for people in need, addressing social and environmental issues – such as food waste – that were among our most urgent even before COVID-19 struck. 

Members of the Auckland Sikh community, who won the People’s Choice award.

Sikh community in the spotlight

Winners of the People’s Choice NZ Food Heroes Award, the Supreme Sikh Society, started a food bank at the Sikh Temple in Takanini, aiming to distribute 1100 food parcels to people struggling during the lockdown. They were able to feed around 66,000 families impacted by the lockdown from Auckland right down to Queenstown with their simple motive to “recognise the whole human race as one.”

Their nation-wide food distribution project started the day after lockdown. Daljit Singh says Sikh philosophy states that the basic principle of Sikhism is to share with others, and food was the important part of that during COVID-19 – “so that nobody goes to sleep without food.”

Each parcel contained enough food for four people to last four to five days, with volunteers working from their Takanini base, as well as from other sites around Auckland and throughout New Zealand.

Mr Singh says recipients of food parcels were often in tears, telling volunteers: “We never knew who the Sikh people were before. But now, everybody knows who the Sikh people are.”

Local Hero NZ Food Heroes Award Winner Diana Greer developed the “Collective Hug” group to help support the rural community in her Hawke’s Bay region through food parcel distribution

She says winning the award is; “Outstanding, amazing – but it’s not just for me, it’s for all my team.”

A highlight for her was “the look on farmers’ faces when they got their food parcels – there was a lot of tears shed.”

Professor Ray Geor, Pro Vice-Chancellor College of Sciences and New Zealand Food Awards governance board chair, says Fair Food Charitable Trust embodies the Kiwi spirit that the New Zealand Food Awards and the NZ Food Heroes campaign stand for. 

“They combined sustainability, business innovation, excellent team work and leadership – all while caring for the vulnerable in a time of need. Taking a purely mobile model that delivered 121 tonnes of food in 2019 to a distribution model with four sites to deliver 143 tonnes of food per month during lockdown is nothing short of exceptional.”

Professor Ray Geor being interviewed by Indian Apna TV network reporter Uttam Sharma at the gala event.

‘Food hero’ focus a pandemic pivot for NZ Food Awards

Due to the huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the New Zealand Food Awards powered by Massey University shifted from its usual programme to delivering a community-focussed celebration of innovators across all sectors of the food and beverage industry. An online campaign was launched in July to call for nominations, and the results of public voting culminated in a gala dinner in Auckland’s Cordis Hotel last night to announce and celebrate winners.

Professor Geor says “With our history and involvement in the food and beverage sector, it has been the New Zealand Food Awards and Massey University’s honour to acknowledge the often unseen efforts of this sector during Aotearoa’s time of need. I was humbled to see so many inspiring organisations and individuals showcase Kiwi compassion and innovation while facing global challenges of an unprecedented nature.”

Other winners were the team at New World Foxton for the way they engaged with the community, continued to support the food chain industry and adapted their services – picking up donations to a local food bank and Women’s Refuge. Innovators NZ Food Heroes Award Winner SOS café provided much needed cash and support to local cafes with their innovative initiative.

Industry Supporter NZ Food Heroes Award Winner, the Restaurant Association of New Zealand, was recognised as a hero for its commitment to members by lobbying for wage support, providing navigation of legal matters, as well as much needed encouragement and training webinars for their members to use the lockdown time effectively.  

The Dream Team NZ Food Heroes Award Winner Waitarere Beach Four Square were honoured for their unique, local and amazing story of Kiwi community spirit. Catering to their small community of approximately 700 people, Waitarere Beach Four Square was open every day managing the needs of their residents so that the community could “remain a bubble” for a lengthy period of time. 

“This would not have been possible without the dedication shown by all at the Waitarere Beach Four Square staff. To us they are the heroes who kept our sanity, provided a smiling face every day and maintained the calm which was all important during this stressful time,” says their nominator. 

Category winners:

  • Massey University Supreme Winner NZ Food Heroes Award: Fair Food Charitable Trust
  • Countdown People’s Choice NZ Food Heroes Award: Supreme Sikh Society
  • New Zealand Food Safety Outstanding Service NZ Food Heroes Award: New World Foxton
  • Cuisine Local Hero NZ Food Heroes Award: Diana Greer
  • James and Wells Innovators NZ Food Heroes Award: SOS Café
  • New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Industry Supporter NZ Food Heroes Award: Restaurant Association of New Zealand
  • Palmerston North City Council Greater Good NZ Food Heroes Award: Fair Food Charitable Trust
  • AsureQuality The Dream Team NZ Food Heroes Award: Waitarere Beach Four Square staff

Graham Rouse, from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, one of 20 judges for the awards, said; “It’s been incredibly inspiring to see so many worthy organisations and individuals nominated for the awards. And although our nominees span different categories and geographical locations, it was heartening to see so many of them underpinned by the value of ‘care’. That’s important because we know that consumers around the world are looking for safe, nutritious, premium quality, ethical and tasty food and beverages. Through our value of care, New Zealand is perfectly placed to meet these needs.” 

Apart from Massey University, as principal sponsor and event organiser, the awards are made possible with the support of New Zealand Food Safety, Countdown, Cuisine Magazine, James & Wells, AsureQuality, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Villa Maria, The Intermedia Group New Zealand, Palmerston North City Council, FoodHQ , The FoodBowl, XPO, and The FoodPilot.

Winning products earn the New Zealand Food Award’s quality mark to highlight their innovation and excellence to shoppers and industry.

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