It's a family gathering every Monday night; sharing food, a cuppa, conversations, and kindness. But this family gathering is a little larger than most.
'Milo Night', as it's known, brings 150 people in our community together at the Willow Street bus stop each week, to be greeted by the warm welcome of Street Kai—a charity feeding the homeless.
And it's not just food. Supplying toiletries, clothing, dog food, haircuts or even a chat with a medic, they care for those in need in our community. The service, which usually runs for 1 to 2 hours, sees the Street Kai 'Auntys' cook and bring food down to the bus stop, where it is shared and taken away by our community.
With all ages, ethnicities, and genders present, there are few rules other than turning phones off and showing kindness.
But since the lockdown, these gatherings are looking different. With permission from Civil Defence, the charity has been providing their service for 30 minutes each Monday.
Street Kai Secretary Pip Brook says the turnout has more than halved, with around 60 attending each week.
"These are the ones who can get to us most easily—a lot of them have been put in motel rooms, so they will still come to Milo Night. I feel that as we shift back to level 3 and 2, we will get an increased number back at the bus stop."
Food is served in takeaway form, consisting of a kai box and food and water for the next day. The 2m physical distancing guidelines are adhered to, and a maximum of 5 Auntys are present to help. But the item they are most struggling to source is affordable clothing.
"There is usually a huge demand for undies and socks, but right now we have no access to them and can't buy them online cheaply enough," says Pip.
Pip says the homeless community are doing well, despite the significant adjustment in living arrangements.
"To them, this is not much different to normal, except now everyone wants to give them food—not many did before.
"Their anxieties have increased as they are now in rooms, by themselves, and they are not quite sure of the rules. It can feel like a prison, shut up all day.
"While they have no access to clothes, they can take a shower daily, which is great. They are happy to have that room for now, as long as that lasts… they feel safer and are adjusting to sleeping in a bed."
To support Street Kai's work during the lockdown, $5,000 in funding was approved by local funders TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council through the Rapid Response Fund.
TECT Trustee Amanda Sutcliffe says the fund, which aims to support those community groups facing increased demand or a funding shortfall due to COVID-19, was a new collaborative approach.
"Working together, we can provide effective, impactful funding where it is needed most. We have made the process simple for community groups like Street Kai to access the funds they need quickly.
"We're pleased to see Street Kai continuing their work during this time and adapting. Even something as simple as providing an extra days' worth of non-perishable food will go a long way to ensuring our homeless community is fed and safe through the lockdown."
To learn more about Street Kai, visit https://www.streetkai.org/.