A casual conversation struck up while buying fruit at the side of the road in Point Wells has led to tonnes of mandarins being distributed to struggling families around the region.
Real estate agent Jenni Marsh got chatting to Roger Alexander, of Ike’s Mandarins, while making a purchase during Level 3 lockdown.
Roger revealed he had a bumper crop – so much so that much of it was not being harvested and good fruit was falling to the ground and rotting away.
Jenni suggested he give it away, but Roger said the problem was finding people to pick the mandarins.
With her real estate business in the doldrums due to Covid-19 and plenty of time on her hands, Jenni put her hand up to gather together some volunteers to do the picking and find some charities who would be eager to accept the fruit.
Jenni recruited her daughter-in-law, who had some downtime due to Covid and several other women, including retired widows who were feeling especially isolated during lockdown.
She says the women viewed themselves as an essential service, harvesting food, but still took precautions such as wearing gloves, staying two metres apart and making liberal use of hand sanitiser.
“They enjoyed having a purpose, being out in the open and doing something useful,” Jenni says.
Jenni says food aid charities were over the moon to hear of offers of mandarins. One of the first to accept was Auckland-based Eat My Lunch, which was delivering about 2500 lunches a week to schoolchildren a week during the height of lockdown. Other foodbanks, churches, schools and marae in Warkworth, Kaiwaka, Wellsford, Albany, Orewa and Auckland quickly followed.
“Young people at Springboard bag them up and take them back to their families,” Jenni says.
Their efforts have so far seen about 2.5 tonnes of mandarins distributed.
“We’ve had some lovely letters from school kids, from the Salvation Army and from Springboard.
They’ve written to say ‘thank you’ for the difference it has made to people through this difficult time.”
Jenni says much of the credit goes to Roger Alexander, who saw an opportunity with a bonus crop this year that exceeded his expectations.
“He decided to donate it to the local community and any other charities who had a need. He put his hand up and we grabbed it,” she says.