New Zealand-based Pasifika health service, the Fono, has finally found a home for its Faleoko, food hub distribution centre.
"With the covid stuff it actually forced us to think about a regionalised office to centralise where our food hub is," The Fono Chief Executive Tevita Funaki said.
The team has officially opened a new branch in Mt Wellington, Auckland.
The space is large enough to store and pack essential supplies to be distributed to hundreds of families each week.
At the ceremony on Friday, the Fono also launched its latest service, LagiOla. It is a Pasifika mental health service set to make huge strides towards better wellbeing and reducing stigma.
More than 100 community leaders, health experts and government officials came together for the opening of the new building and launch of the new service.
The Fono Trust Chair, Nacanieli Yalimaiwai spoke of the huge inequities Pasifika face every day.
"Today is a significant milestone in the journey of the Fono. In particular it honours the journey of our forefathers and pioneers of the Fono. That they are violence free, violence free families and violence free communities. That they are vibrant, celebrating our communities and aspirations," Yalimaiwai said.
Mr Yalimaiwai conveyed his deep respect to those who have passed, acknowledging their guidance of the voyage of the Fono's vaka to Pasifika family's advancement.
His prayer is for the new building and service to be a house of healing.
Founding member, inaugural chair of the Fono and Keynote speaker at the launch of the new premise, the recently knighted Sir Collin Tukuitonga acknowledged those who have passed and how far the Fono service has come since it was first launched in 1987.
"When we started this in the late 80's there was nothing like this. You either had to go to the local GP and take what you get or start something yourself, and this is what's happened," Tukuitonga said.
Sir Collin says the service was emotional as he reflected on how far the Fono had come since the early days. He was tearful during the interview while reflecting on decades of hard work.
"The heath system is designed around sickness, that's why I talked about the car. When it breaks down you go to a mechanic and it gets fixed. In many ways the New Zealand health system is built around that kind of ethos.
"What we try to do is to engage, involve and support the communities to focus on health, housing and diet, all of those things that keep people well. Sounds sensible but it is difficult to do," he said.
"You won't get that from the conventional family practice model that operates in New Zealand, but if you look at the Fono they are involved in all kinds of things. Food support for people struggle during the pandemic, they are training young people in the apprentice area, and if you talk to public health colleagues one of the best things you can do for health is to enable people to have enough income so they are able to buy enough food items, have a warm house, pay for medical items if they need it," Sir Collin Tukuitonga said.
"So that's the belief, the philosophy around the genesis of the Fono, but above all it is about community ownership, " he said.
Fast forward three decades and a lot has changed. The Fono has just opened its ninth branch in Mt Wellington Auckland, providing affordable services across Auckland, including dental and social services.
The Fono Chief Executive Tevita Funaki, who has recently been announced as Procare's Co-operative board as Director representing Pacific interests said the Fono does not own the new building just yet.
They are renting the new space, but it is a far cry from what the team has been working from.
"So this kind of give us a place where we can centralise it, a place where our staff can work, this is fale for us, this is home that not only drives the aspirations of people who walk through the door but the aspirations for my team, my staff, they want to come here, they want to feel safe," Funaki said.
Mr Funaki said The Fono has had to move locations three times in the past year. He said the team has been struggling to find a permanent home to house its food hub, where hundreds of food packs are distributed each week.
It has been especially tough with increased demand with pressure from Covid-19, he said.
The latest New Zealand Ministry of Health report on Pacific Covid-19 data ending August seven states: "Pacific Peoples have the highest death rate per 1,000 for all age groups".
Ofeira Taulealeausumai is the Faleoko team lead at the new premise.
She is a front-line worker and see's the struggles people are going through firsthand and she is one of the many doing something to help.
"It's been tough because we all caught Covid. I've been running for two and a half years without catching it and then it knocked me three weeks ago. When we have staff down it impacts on us being able to deliver," Taulealeausumai said.
The high cost of living has been having a massive impact on people, she said.
"We get people ringing and sometimes they are ringing angry and we know something is going on, they are stressed, they have reached breaking point," Taulealeausumai said.
Despite the compounding challenges the team faces, the new space is a great place to work, "we are like family," she said.
Manukau Ward Councillor Alf Filipaina was at the launch, he said it is awesome to have a central building in Tamaki Makaurau.
"This is for the community, it's not only for Pacific. If you need the help they are here," he said.