Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

The Cook Islander providing Sunday meals for Auckland’s homeless

sunday blessings volunteer community group helping homeless in auckland

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Anauli Karima Fai'ai | Reporter/Director

Sunday Blessings is an Auckland community group that’s been working tirelessly over the past three years to provide hot meals for those in need. While the lockdown has affected them, they continue to operate by distributing food packs. We caught up with them earlier this year to find out more about their Pacific connection.

When Cook Islander Danielle LeGallais-Pakoti is around, no one goes hungry.

Every Sunday you’ll find her at the Ellen Melville Centre in Auckland CBD, leading a group of dedicated volunteers to prepare a hot meal for over 150 guests from the city’s homeless community.

“I feel like it’s a no-brainer. We live in a country where there’s a food surplus yet we have people who look through the rubbish bin,” Danielle says.

The group is called Sunday Blessings and was co-founded by Danielle in 2018.

“We thought that Sunday was a really good day to choose for our gift of Sunday blessings, because one, it has religious significance and number two, a lot of people struggle on a Sunday as it is, and we can hopefully help give them motivation by giving good cheer, good company on a Sunday to get ready for a busy Monday,” she says.

The group is an amalgamation of two preceding meal providers: Helping Hands of Devonport, headed by fellow Co-Founder Laurie Mcleod, and Danielle’s own breakfast service.

“We weren’t kind of working, because we were doing it more as individuals, and what we decided to do is start talking and meeting people who wanted to help the community and work together,” she says.

The team begin their Sunday meal preparations early in the week by visiting local retailers to collect food for storage.

Food distribution never stops on a Sunday too.

“I usually leave food for guests to collect from the centre from Wednesday to Friday,” she says.

Auckland’s lockdown restrictions have put a temporary halt on the hot meal service, but the team have continued to work tirelessly, ensuring help is available for those in need.

“We are fully operating under restrictions and have always operated under restrictions within the framework that allows us to do so as an Essential Service provider approved by MBIE,” she says.

“Last week I organised, through working with our local MP Chloe (Swarbrick) and the DHB, to connect with a kaupapa Māori NGO called Te Hononga: O Tamaki Me Hoturoa and set up a vaccination pop-up next to our food pack service — food packs, not meal plates during lock down to work within restrictions.”

Volunteers come from different walks of life, but every week a strong contingent of Pacific helpers will turn up to show their support.

“They just get in there and work together as a team. A lot of people have used it to give service in terms of their faith, and they’ve been the largest group that have come through Sunday Blessings.”

“I think it’s helpful because it breaks down a lot of barriers. If you are asking for help from someone, it makes it easier if the person looks like you; you can relate to them on a physical level but also on a cultural level as well.”

The number of people using the service has grown significantly over the last three years, which has left the team feeling pleased on the one hand but also dismayed at this seemingly worsening crisis.

“I’ve had people come up to us that have said ‘I haven’t eaten in three days’, and I mean, for that sort of carry on to go on in New Zealand, it kind of just blows my mind,” she says.

But the family-oriented environment that has become synonymous with Sunday Blessings has become a vital escape for not only its guests but also the Pacific volunteers, who keep coming back every week.

Alfonzo Riggs joined the group this year and has been actively involved in the delivery of its vaccination and meal pack services.

“To open your eyes to what’s around you, it makes you feel grateful to what you really have,” he says.

“It’s just good to give back to less fortunate people, helping out in our community, especially towards Pacific Islanders.”

As the old saying goes, food always brings people together.

“How I look at it, we aren’t solving the problem of homelessness, but by giving a hearty meal for that moment in time someone is full, they are with a community that cares about them and for that moment in time they are a happy member of our community and they’re more uplifting,” Danielle says.

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