Written by Mazz Scannell, journalism student, Massey University Wellington
When a father of two came into the Masterton FoodBank and said he didn’t want a chicken because he didn’t know how to cook it, volunteer Merryn Hamilton realised there was something she could do to change people’s lives.
"It was a lightbulb moment – I wanted to do something that worked for the people we support," Merryn said.
Taking the father’s predicament to heart she has developed a range of recipes and includes them in food parcels, making sure all the necessary ingredients are also supplied.
When the bank received a large number of apples, Merryn made sure each parcel included apples, sugar and a recipe for stewed apples.
Merryn, 22, first volunteered at the FoodBank when she was at school. One of her teachers used newspaper articles about nutrition and food poverty as part of the class syllabus and she started thinking of practical ways she could help.
It was a natural progression for Merryn to volunteer for the Christmas FoodBank run. The annual event is organised by the local fire brigade and supported by numerous Wairarapa volunteer organisations.
The experience was very exciting. Merryn was part of the sorting team – she said it was a race against time to sort the tinned pineapples and boxes of jelly before the next fire truck arrived laden with more non-perishable food donations.
“We were helping the community in a fun way. There were so many people from all walks of life working towards the same goal, and we could get a lot of work done in a short period of time.” Merryn said.
“I started with the Christmas parcel delivery run and have continued supporting the FoodBank after I left school,” Merryn said.
Helping at the FoodBank allowed me to interact with people and the different agencies, “I could talk to people and tried to think about how I could help – it’s developed from there.”
Masterton FoodBank manager and co-ordinator Lyn Tankersley called Merryn "an angel" and "volunteer extraordinaire".
“She has changed the way people think about food. Families are excited about what they are going to have for dinner, because it’s all there, the ingredients and the recipe.”
Merryn Hamilton and her egg chart – the information poster and recipe sheet were the beginning of a very successful FoodBank initiative.
The first recipe was four ways to cook eggs. The recipe sheet proved popular and Merryn branched out to include meals and deserts.
“If someone donates canned lentils, I will incorporate them into a recipe – they are a low-cost grocery item, and the next time the family are at the supermarket, they will have the confidence to buy them because they know what to do with them,” Merryn said.
Bonni is a weekly visitor to the foodbank. She has a family of five and also fosters three nephews.
“The foodbank helps in a big way. I value everything they provide for me and the recipes are a bonus."
Merryn has developed enough recipes to collate them into a cookbook covering family meals, deserts and healthy snacks, which she hopes to have out by the end of the year.
Merryn fits volunteering around her university holidays and she is also renovating a large dolls house for the food bank. “The internal fittings have all been donated by local businesses – it has craft wallpaper, brand new carpet and the latest paint colours on the walls,” Merryn said.
A lovely old lady donated it. “We plan to raffle the house to raise funds and buy more food. It’s a large house, it takes two people to move it.”