High levels of poverty and homelessness in Whangarei have prompted a group associate with the Hare Krishna faith to set up a centre to feed the city's poor and needy for free.
The Food For Life Centre is being set up in Water St and should be open next week, with organisers expecting to feed between up to 100 people each day it opens with free, healthy and nutritious vegetarian food.
Food For Life Whangarei coordinator Buddhi Wilcox said the group had noticed increasing levels of poor and hungry people in the city and decided to do something about it.
The Gopals Krishna food shop in Whangarei, set up three years ago, has been feeding several homeless people daily and the Whangarei Womens' Refuge had been taking the food leftover from Gopals to help feed its clients.
Mr Wilcox said the Krishna faith put a lot of emphasis on healthy food and Food For Life is its welfare arm. He set up New Zealand's first Food For Life Centre in Auckland 20 years ago.Mr Wilcox said he had been talking with social service groups, such as Salvation Army, Te Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing, Refuge, Northern Urban Rural Mission and the Child Poverty Action Group, who all identified growing poverty in Whangarei.
"The Salvation Army are having people going to them who haven't eaten for two or three days. Our research shows there's a clear need for this in Whangarei now and things are very hard for a lot of people out there."
Mr Wilcox said all the free food, which would be healthy vegetarian fare, would be cooked at Gopals and taken to the Water St centre.
He said the centre was relying on donations of food to help feed the poor and all donations of fruit, vegetables and milk would be gratefully accepted.
However, the group wanted some paint donated to give the centre a spruce up before it opens and needed tables and chairs.
As well as providing free, healthy food, Mr Wilcox said the centre would also give other tips, such as cooking and nutritional advice and how to feed a family on a limited budget.
"Anybody can come, rich or poor, but if you can afford it we'd ask for a koha to help us feed those that can't afford to feed themselves."
Whangarei Child Poverty Action Group spokeswoman Diane Lawson said research showed that nearly all decile 1-4 schools were providing some food for their children while hundreds of families are getting food from social agencies every week.
"With essential costs like housing, energy and transport continuing to increase, the family food budget becomes discretionary as often it is the only place a family can cut their spending," Ms Lawson said.