Isolation brings innovation in the Deep South – Bluff Isolation Support Group

Community helping community has been the focus during COVID-19 Lockdown, even at the southern edge of our country.

Reaching isolated rural communities

Tammi Topi, from the Bluff Isolation Support Group, reflects on her work co-ordinating a community response for Bluff and the region.

“We have a wide range of isolated rural families. There are around 1100 homes in our area, that covers Bluff, Omaui and Greenhills and around 250 either living alone or over 65 years. To start, it was a massive effort ensuring we contacted everyone.

“We used electoral rolls and phone books, word of mouth, the marae network …any avenue we could to check in on everyone. That takes a big group of volunteers to do this and we even had WWOOFers (international travellers volunteering on farms) stranded in the region who worked on this task which was an awesome help.

“You just have to reach out through all avenues. We also designed, printed out and mailed a yellow flyer to about 300 homes for which we didn’t have names or numbers for, with a number to call if they needed help or support. We didn’t expect a huge response but the people who did respond were some of our most vulnerable. So it was worth it.”

“Over the five weeks of Level 4 our volunteers have made over 700 phonecalls and counting! We’ve learned how to triage the response; finding out what our people need, who can help, and how? And then we make follow-up calls to make sure they are ok.

Sometimes it takes the second or third phone call for people to open up and tell us what they are really feeling or needing.

“By listening and tuning in to people’s needs, we made sure we captured an extensive list of solutions to problems we can help with; how they can pay their bills, register their car, pre-paid envelopes, phone top-ups and food top-ups; like the daily fresh things that people run out of to prevent those most vulnerable from having to venture out for milk or bread etc. People are so grateful for that little extra help at this time.”

Keeping in touch moving forward

“Now we’ve added all these details to a database for future reference in case of a civil defence emergency – it will be a great platform to start from. It makes us more prepared for the next jolt. We are also more prepared to know what to ask for in future funding applications.

“Our meal delivery service provided by Koha Kai has been running red hot!  Initially the advertising started through Facebook but actually, our customers who are often pensioners are generally not Facebook users. So we produced some pink fliers for mail delivery again, with the food options displayed so people could phone and place an order that way. We’ve been catering for 100-120 meals weekly – at $5 a meal.

“Our local Marae is also now onboard, where the passionate cooks there have been busy pumping out meals with a little added aroha to also distribute within our community on a case-by-case basis.”

Finding inspiration in the mahi

Tammi says her inspiration to do this mahi, co-ordinating and supporting the volunteer effort, stems from her sense of purpose to help others.

“I always find myself being this person. Someone needs to do it. I just don’t want to see anyone suffering in silence in our community.”

“Moving from Level 3 to Level 2, we will still be working to care for our whānau.

“Some of our community have no-one to extend their bubble to … we have numerous whanau who unfortunately have had or are in the midst of cancer treatment, also many with respiratory illnesses like asthma making them very high risk. These people are generally more anxious and will really still value the check-in calls.

We’re looking ahead, thinking of what winter might be like for people here – cold! What if their wage subsidy has finished and they have no job to go to? So we will be making up winter care essential packs – things like hot water bottles, kindling, slippers, food vouchers. Things like that.

It’s a good feeling knowing you’ve made a little positive difference to someone’s life, seeing those smiles, tears of thankfulness or receiving an unexpected call from someone taking the time to say thank you, in turn makes our day.”

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