In these Covid-19 affected times, Papatoetoe Food Hub is the feel-good story we all need right now.
Nutrient-rich and indigenous kai at affordable prices: That simple vision drives the South Auckland social enterprise, which has been providing delicious meals from behind the carpark at New World Papatoetoe since 2018.
Launched with support from local Government, Foundations and private donors, Food Hub operates thanks mainly to a unique partnership with Papatoetoe New World to utilise produce otherwise destined for landfill. The original 1948 ‘White Lady’ food truck from downtown Auckland serves as its iconic kitchen. Day-to-day operations are managed by a multi-cultural family of South Auckland locals, including Sundaresan Ramakrishna (popularly known as Raju), an enthusiastic Indian-Kiwi entrepreneur who immigrated from Chennai in 1989.
Today, Raju is a Food Hub Director, along with Waikare Reihana Komene, a community leader from Otara, and Head Chef Michelle (daughter of much-revered Mama Potoru).
Their all-day menu is eat-in, pick-up or local-delivery, and guilt free!
Worthy of emulation
As the Labour candidate for Manurewa, I was proud to organise the visit of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to Food Hub earlier this year.
That visit helped shine a spotlight on the highly positive role Food Hub plays in our community: employing locals, offering a quality and affordable alternative to fast food, and reducing food waste. As the Prime Minister said to Raju, ‘we should be doing this elsewhere too’.
Like other social enterprises and businesses in Manurewa, Food Hub temporarily closed its doors during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Raju credits the Government’s Wage Subsidy Scheme for keeping eight staff on their payroll during that time.
New Zealand’s response to preserving jobs during Covid-19 has been world leading, according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.
New Zealand faces a long road to recovery and hardship lies ahead. But it is good to keep perspective about how successful we have been in comparison to many countries.
Closer to home, Raju shared some of the stories of those the Wage Subsidy Scheme has helped the following Aucklanders:
An 18-year old Māori man from Otara, who Raju observed was “lost and looking for direction.”
He had just successfully finished a course in scaffolding but could not find a job. He is now on staff, and “can just about run any part of the operation all by himself, from opening and closing, to laying down a traditional Hangi.”
A Cook Island woman, made redundant from Air New Zealand due to Covid-19. She “followed her passion for vegetarian cooking” into a new career as a Food Hub chef.
An Indian woman, who was “at home due to Covid-19 but wanted to continue working.”
She now uses her accounting skills remotely to support the business.
Gratitude and enthusiasm
Food Hub also employs an additional two staff under the Ministry of Social Development’s Flexi-Wage subsidy. Flexi-Wage helps people at risk of long-term unemployment get into paid jobs.
It works by providing a wage subsidy to employers in return for on-the-job training.
Raju, speaking on behalf of their entire team, is full of gratitude for the opportunities their partners have given Food Hub. He emphasizes that without the Government’s employee subsidies, “We would not be able to be here now.”
As we all come together to support those most impacted by Covid-19, I am proud of the role that Papatoetoe Food Hub and its local partners play for the South Auckland community.
Arena Williams (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāi Tūhoe) is the Labour Party candidate for Manurewa in the general election due on October 17, 2020. A qualified lawyer and mother two children, she was raised in South Auckland.