Chefs, hospitality workers and all manner of other community volunteers around Queenstown have been rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in in the kitchen to ensure those who are struggling are fed well.
‘Let’s Eat!’ is a volunteer group founded by Queenstown mum Tam Schurmann and a few other kind souls who wanted to ensure those struggling financially, battling serious illness, facing trauma, separations or hardship of any kind, get to eat healthy meals.
Surplus supermarket food is collected by volunteers and whipped up into wholesome meals at weekly cook-ups in Arrowtown’s St John’s Church kitchen. These are then frozen and delivered to families or individuals going through emotional or physical crises.
At the helm in the kitchen is Sri Lankan, now Kiwi, chef Dinesha Amarasinghe, one of the reasons the group was established. Dinesha is Let’s Eat!’s paid catering manager, in partnership with the Wakatipu Community Presbyterian Church, which also provides kitchens for the cook-ups. Queenstown has now been home to Dinesha, her taxi driver husband and three young sons for seven years. She had worked as a chef in Auckland at Ellerslie Garden Rest-home and then in Queenstown at Lone Star. However, in 2015 when the family was awaiting residency approval to stay in New Zealand Dinesha fell ill with multiple sclerosis and the family was going to be forced to leave New Zealand.
It was at this time that Tam Schurmann delivered a ‘Basket of Blessing’ gift to the family and arranged for the community to support them through her charity, ‘Baskets of Blessing’. The group joined with other members of the community to lobby on Dinesha’s behalf for the family to stay, which paid off.
“Let’s Eat! was set up when we realised that families under stress needed practical help and providing meals seemed the best solution,” says Tam. “There’s a lot of hidden need in Queenstown, with families battling high rentals and increasing living costs, as well as many people not having the support base of close family living nearby.
“We were also aware of people with illness and disabilities, like Dinesha, in the community who needed part-time employment. We were also motivated to use the surplus food from supermarkets to reduce food waste.” Let’s Eat helped solve all three problems in one.
Dinesha’s weeks are spent cooking, ordering, menu planning and working with the community and businesses, like Countdown Supermarket, that donate a lot of food. She loves her work and the chance it give back to the community after all the kindness she received. “I’m just so grateful to Let’s Eat and I’ve gained so much of my health back now, because we’re so happy to be staying in Queenstown,” she says. “This is our home,” says Dinesha, who lives in a small one-bedroom house with her family. “Without Tam and this wonderful community that came to our rescue we would not still be here.”
Let’s Eat turns out about 150 meals a week, depending on what ingredients are available – 400 individual portions – to everyone from families struggling to put food on the table to people battling cancer.
Special dietary needs have to be met and the volunteer cook-ups also cater for different cultural needs with so many cultures represented in Queenstown.
Anything from 20 to 30 volunteers turn up each month, but Tam says the group is in dire need of more help, both financially and from volunteers.
- Anyone able to help with donations of time, food or sponsorship can contact Tam Schurmann on 0220122439 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org