True kindness

By Bryce Marsden, Chief Executive of the Milford Foundation as appeared in the Sunday Star Times on Sunday 12th September 2021

Hunger, paid work that’s intermittent at best, domestic violence, the absence of hope, broken educations – how much of that is familiar to you?

These hard issues long pre-dated the Covid pandemic, but there’s plenty of evidence they may have been exacerbated by it here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

By and large New Zealanders have bought into the galvanising mantra of “be kind”. For New Zealand’s 28,000 charities, it’s a phrase that has assumed new resonance and urgency.

Their vital work goes on every day, away from the glare and ritual of the daily media.

These charities deliver not just kindness but also the necessities of life, hope, enablement and other resources to tens of thousands of New Zealanders every day.

Their work highlights stories and circumstances that are utterly distant from the relatively comfortable lives of many New Zealanders – including mine and most of the people I interact with at work and socially.

It can be painful and unsettling to hear these stories, and the contrast they make to the ‘received’ image of a tranquil, picture-postcard Aotearoa New Zealand.

What’s been happening?

Radio New Zealand recently reported on the high levels of demand being experienced by foodbanks.

According to the latest reporting from the Ministry of Social Development, food grant numbers are double what they were at this time last year, when Auckland was in a level 3 lockdown.

Salvation Army, Pasifika Futures and other charitable organisations have all had to step up their activity, with the Army’s Rhondda Middleton noting that the latest lockdowns have hit many families hard and early.

The Milford Foundation is playing its part too, combining direct grants with longer-term initiatives and partnerships in line with our mission.

The Milford Foundation was set up a few months ago, to focus and expand the charitable activity to which Milford Asset Management has always been committed.

The Foundation is focused on three main pillars of giving: youth, education and the environment. These pillars are closely aligned with the Foundation’s simple but far-reaching purpose: to invest in the future of Aotearoa New Zealand and create opportunities for generations to follow.

And it’s my day job to help make that happen, working with my trustees, partners and the financial brains and passion of the whole team at Milford Asset Management

Current partners of the Foundation include the Graeme Dingle Foundation and the 0800 What’s Up? service operated by Barnardos. Together these organisations have a strong focus on youth and community.

What’s the pandemic meant for them?

In recent weeks 0800 What’s Up? has seen a 40% increase in calls and chats received since the latest lockdowns started. Barnardos has observed an increase in family violence and provided emergency funds to struggling families to help them pay for food, power and other basic costs.

The work of the Graeme Dingle Foundation has highlighted still other, though inter-related, challenges. These include the ways in which lockdowns and associated disruptions have affected the motivation of some students.

The grind of the pandemic appears to have exacerbated the complex challenges these students already faced: highly challenging family situations, relentless poverty and other problems that rarely make the headlines.

The Milford Foundation is taking action. Last week we provided $120,000 in donations to community foodbanks serving hard-hit communities in Auckland.

These organisations include the Village Community Services Trust. The words of its chair, Sir Michael Jones, reinforce those many others in the sector: “This lockdown is different and harder, families are struggling.”

With the rollout of the vaccine and New Zealanders’ willingness to adhere to lockdowns, we should be confident the pandemic and its effects will be brought under control, for now.

Life won’t be completely the same as it was before the pandemic, but surely we will get closer to normality.

Should it be the normality that so many of our charities are already confronted with?

It’s the wish not just of the Milford Foundation, but the thousands of other charities doing essential work up and down New Zealand, that the ‘virus’ of true kindness long outlasts the one that starts with C, and the catch phrases we’ve become so familiar with.