Volunteers prepare over 200 meals in 'Cookathon' for young families who need a helping hand

Natalia Sutherland
Source: 1News

For new mum Tammy O’Reilly having a home cooked meal delivered to her door following the birth of her daughter has not only given her practical support but emotional support as well.

Originally from South Africa, the mum of a seven-week-old and her husband have been learning the ropes of parenthood alone in New Zealand as the borders remain closed due to Covid-19.

It was O’Reilly’s midwife who referred her to charity Bellyful which provides free meals for families with young children and newborns who need extra support.

“It’s whānau who are really looking for support where they perhaps need it when they’ve got young babies and families around,” says Bellyful branch coordinator for West Auckland Tracy Cox.

“Sometimes it will be a family who has a serious illness in the family and they have young children who they are trying to look after as well.”

The families are referred to Bellyful by Plunket nurses, midwives, community social workers or family and friends.

The organisation, which was created over 10 years ago, has 24 branches from Hibiscus Coast down to Invercargill with around 650 volunteers who cook meals for the families.

“[The volunteers] are from all walks of life,” says Cox.

“We have people that are great-grandmothers, grandmothers through to late teens that are helping us as well.

“It’s just really lovely that people want to give back - do something for their community.”

The volunteers come together every month for a "Cookathon" where they cook, package and freeze meals to be delivered to families referred to the organisation.

“They are what you could call ‘our good old family meals’,” says Cox.

“They are your macaroni and cheese, beef bolognese and we have a very yummy vegetarian option which is called our red lentil and tomato soup and of course beef lasagna as well.”

In an average Cookathon, around 200 to 250 meals are cooked with ingredients paid for by sponsors and donors.

“We have a lot of costs when it comes to meal ingredients, packaging – an [average] cook for example is costing us $850 to $900 just to produce 200 meals so that’s a lot of money to gather together every month,” says Cox.

Last year proved to be a massive challenge for Bellyful with financial support down 30 per cent.

“Of course with 2020 the way it was, that’s impacted so many people, so many charities, so many businesses so it is a little bit harder to get that support,” says Cox.

Not only was Bellyful down funds last year, the organisation also experienced a dip in volunteers during Auckland’s two lockdowns.

“We were down on our numbers of volunteers but totally understandably. So we just did what we could possibly do and got out there as quickly as we could,” says Cox.

This meant volunteers cooked meals at home ready to be delivered to families once alert levels dropped.

Covid-19 separated many families like the O’Reillys from relatives overseas making the support of Bellyful even more meaningful for families in New Zealand on their own.

“Their friend groups aren’t very wide so that’s where we can step in and help out with those meals. A few nights worth of meals can make all the difference to a family,” says Cox.

O’Reilly, who has only lived in New Zealand for two years, says having the meals delivered has been “really, really practical and emotionally supportive”.

She says not only has the meals helped her after giving birth but it’s saved her husband from having to prepare meals while looking after her and their daughter.

“It’s a really cool organisation. You don’t realise how helpful it is until you’re on the receiving end.”