STORIES FROM THE FRONTLINE: Essential workers during COVID-19

We are living in difficult times. COVID-19 has forced children out of schools, elderly into further isolation and most significantly, it has exposed the crippling social inequalities that the most vulnerable in our communities have endured for far too long. While the rest of New Zealand are on lockdown, essential workers are sacrificing time away from their loved ones to ensure that the country runs smoothly and safely. This mini series aims to raise awareness, encourage hope and honour our people working on the frontline during COVID-19. 

'Stay Home, Save Lives' has been the catchy phrase during the lockdown period. But what about those that are most vulnerable in our communities and do not have a home to call their own? Fortunately, there are organisations such as the Wellington City Mission that give selflessly to help people that are most in need. Kieran Meredith, the talented, intelligent and generous media whiz from Wellington City Mission, shares their journey on the frontline so far. 

Hello Kieran, can you please tell us about where you work and your role? 

I work for The Wellington City Mission as the Media and Communications Manager. We’re a charitable trust that has been walking alongside and supporting people and families in need across the Wellington region for the last 115 years. We provide wrap-around support to those in need, enabling them to live independently and confidently, and empowering them to experience fullness of life. 

We do this through the provision of food parcels through our Food Bank, hot meals in our Drop-in Centre, we work with at-risk youth at our Mission for Youth Alternative Education School and we care for vulnerable seniors at our Kemp Rest Home and Hospital. We also provide family support, financial mentoring, community advocacy and transitional housing for the homeless and rough sleepers.

 At the heart of our work, and what really attracted me to coming to work here was The Mission’s organisation-wide commitment to bridging the social disconnect and isolation that our communities face, as well as helping to break down their complex issues and the hardship which they experience through no fault of their own and finding a positive pathway forward for them.

I like the fact that you acknowledged that the issues that most of these people face are very complex because quite often, there is a lot of unfair judgment towards those that need help. The crisis probably amplifies these obstacles for them too. How have the rough sleepers in your area been coping with the lockdown?

There is no denying the fact that COVID-19 has tipped upside down the realities and circumstances of those who are already struggling, but more notably those who are homeless or sleeping rough and who may be more at risk and exposed to health diseases. Their health and wellbeing has always been an absolute priority for us, but knowing the heightened risks associated with many of their circumstances, this has been top of mind in our roll out of service delivery since lockdown.

Absolutely. How has The Mission responded?

Since Alert Level 4 came into effect, as an organisation, we’ve been working at pace to find a solution to house those who are required to self-isolate but don’t have access to housing. We understand that for them, self-isolation is a bit of a myth so breaking down these barriers, getting them into their own self-isolation unit with access to daily meals and wrap-around support was incredibly important. With this being our focus, a few days into our lockdown we were able to open, in collaboration with and support from other agencies,  ‘Te Paapori’ – a facility of 38 self-isolation units. A tremendous amount of work went into setting up this facility in a very short time, acknowledging that time is of the essence and we needed to be as responsive as possible due to the heightened need.

As members of the public, is there anything that we can do to help? 

At this point in time, we’re only able to accept financial donations through our website or internet banking. This will continue to be our call-to-action for as long as social distancing and lockdown measures are in place. People’s donations go a long way to helping us continue our essential food bank and social work services. With realities and jobs threatened, the demand on our services will only continue to increase. I can also only echo the sentiment from the Government for everyone to stay home, stay safe and to be kind. This is the next simplest thing people can do inside of their bubbles to help those in need during this time. Sentimental, but it saves life, including those in need!

Awesome. What positive message would you like to leave for those that are feeling anxious or overwhelmed? 

It’s okay to feel anxious, it’s okay to be overwhelmed, it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to not be okay! Especially in this current climate, being in self-isolation doesn’t mean you have to completely shut yourself off from the world. I know that nothing in this world can torment us more than our own thoughts. I encourage people to keep socialising their thoughts and feelings with loved ones, and those around them in their bubble. Your greatest wealth, is your own health!

Finally, just out of interest, what drew you to this type of work?

As cliché as it sounds, no day is ever the same. I went from planning our next quarterly newsletter and winter campaign one day, to putting both on halt the next to work on the communications strategy that now sits alongside our Pandemic Plan. At times like this, people want real-time information on how and where to access help. People want clarity, and want to feel confident and trust in the updates and information they consume – whether you’re in need, or not, I thrive to make sure this is the case for as many people as possible, and in the most seamless way possible. This includes making sure our staff as essential workers right across The Mission are supported and equipped with up to date information they need to do their jobs. This is not business as usual, and they too, do need information unique to COVID-19. 

As an essential service, we’ve closed our doors but we’re still helping people and families, with the appropriate social distancing measures in place. It’s important people know this. I’m loving the challenge of ensuring people are fully informed of how they can continue to access our services, I’m loving the satisfaction of being able to tell our good news stories of how we’re helping house and feed people through this crisis and I’m loving the thrill of creating content during this period as a means of encouraging people to donate – a lot of our work at the moment is dependent on financial donations as we aren’t able to accept food donations due to the self-isolation measures. 

When we went into lockdown, our Food Bank stock was low and without being able to anticipate exact demand, I knew we had to hit the ground running and put out a call-to-action for donations. Within the space of 12 hours, my team and I planned, designed and went live with an online campaign called ‘Be a good neighbour. Be kind.’ This was an online activation that combined the synergies of Government messaging and our own, that encouraged people to not only think of the people they lived with and next to, but also to spare a thought for the people in our community who struggle, those who don’t actually have neighbours, and whose challenges will have been amplified as a result of COVID-19. Formulating a wrap-around media, communications and marketing approach and activation specific to COVID-19 has meant that we’ve been able to push out key health etiquette messages, while also encouraging people to donate. Peoples donations during this time has meant that our Food Bank has been thrown a lifeline – my part in this, albeit small, is humbling and also inspiring to know that people are receptive to the importance of our work in the community.

0800REFUGE- Women’s Refuge
0508FAMILY- Oranga Tamariki (Reports of concern for children’s safety)
0508 744 633- SHINE
0800 787 797- Alcohol and drug helpline
0800 543 354 or free text 4357- Lifeline
0800 376 633 - Youthline
0800 111 757 Depression Helpline
0508 828 865 Suicide Prevention Helpline

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