Thanks to our community volunteers
When lockdown descended upon New Zealand in the last week of March, a large army of volunteers went into overdrive all over the country to support their fellow citizens throughout the seven long weeks that followed.
One such group was the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) volunteers. Although their offices had to close, on the first day of level 4 CAB had a mind-boggling 360% increase in calls to their free 0800 number, as people sought help to understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to the lockdown and Covid-19 in general. There was a dramatic rise in employment-related issues, tenancy problems, queries regarding cancelled holidays and flights, and, sadly, the need for food parcels. Some people, especially those living alone, were really anxious, needing reassurance during a time of great uncertainty.
Onehunga CAB was closed too, but a core team of 16 people, headed by CAB manager Judi Higginson, manned the phones and replied to hundreds of emails from their homes. Judi says that, normally, 86% of their business is face-to-face, but the new way of working was “very effective”. “We are an amazing resource in a time of national emergency, because we have all these highly skilled people who can locate information really quickly,” she says.
As if they weren’t busy enough, 10 of the Onehunga CAB volunteers were also involved in three other national welfare initiatives. One, spearheaded by the Ministry of Social Development, involved hundreds of volunteers, including CAB, library and council employees. In the first few days, they made welfare calls to over 22,000 people of 70+ years, checking to make sure that they were in touch with social and health services, and to ensure they were being given the support they needed. They then worked on a ‘Supersleuth’ project, which involved following up on all the out-of-date telephone numbers of the second wave of people they hadn’t yet been able to contact. “We had a really good success rate,” says Judi. The third project, initiated by Auckland District Health Board, involved contacting ethnic families, who were in self-isolation; they had been in contact with a person infected by Covid-19, and could not work. “We worked with some of those families who had great needs, mostly for food – so we organised the student army to shop for them, or we sorted out food parcels. We just checked on their health and well-being, and put them in touch with the social services they needed.”
Judi says their service is for everybody, not just New Zealand citizens and residents. “We get a lot of migrants ringing up, who are on working visas, and they get the same service.”
“We empower people. We try to give them options so they go away with the confidence that they can try one of them.”
Go to the Citizens Advice Bureau website cab.org.nz for advice on the following issues:
Employment and business
Family and personal
Government and law
Health and well-being
Housing, land and environment
Finances including benefits and budgeting
Travel and transport
Or call 0800 FOR CAB (36722) to speak to someone in person.
(Jonathan Liu getting the Onehunga CAB office ready to open)