After less than two weeks of operation, the Waikato Freephone 0800 800 405 has already received hundreds of calls, with Civil Defence and Council staff across the region working with local volunteer organisations to support those in need during the COVID-19 response.
Hamilton City Council and Waikato District Council have joined forces to operate a North Waikato Combined Emergency Operations Centre (NWCEOC) to co-ordinate community support, with two welfare teams liaising with other support teams based at Ngaruawahia and Hamilton.
Paul Blewman, one of four shift controllers for the NWCEOC, says the teams are handling around 60 calls a day, assisting Waikato families and individuals struggling to get food, groceries, or other household goods and services.
“The 0800 800 405 number doesn’t replace other government helplines and services, but where a need is identified we can refer people to the right agency if it’s not something we can assist with immediately,” Mr Blewman says.
“The majority of the calls are for food assistance, as well as nappies, clothing and accommodation. We have great support from community houses and service groups and work closely with them to see where the closest or quickest support is available.
“People may not need the support right now, but we encourage people in the Waikato to note down the number and share it with family, friends or neighbours who may want support down the track.
“The way in which the Waikato community has rallied together is both inspiring and humbling. Our local and regional Civil Defence teams are playing our part and making a difference for those most in need,” Mr Blewman says.
Needs are not just physical or financial. The uncertainty and experience of lockdown can impact different people in different ways, and emotional responses such as anxiety, loneliness and fear are not uncommon. If people want to talk these through or simply just want some social contact they can Freephone or text the Ministry of Health’s 24-hour support line on 1737.
The combined emergency operations centre (EOC) is not just about support for residents; teams at the centre provide logistics support for the establishment of community-based testing centres, managed the creation of isolation sites for freedom campers, communicate regional and local public safety messaging and work closely with staff at both councils as they deliver essential services.
“We’ve had some heart-warming feedback through the phone lines, emails and in person,” Mr Blewman says.
“One family of overseas visitors had nowhere to stay and were looked after at one of our freedom camping sites. Waikato District Council building inspectors were looking after the site and the family gave them a hand-written card saying how they felt welcomed, supported and how the kiwi community greeted them with warmth and smiles.
“We’ve got a sign up in the EOC that says we’re here for the wellbeing of everyone in our community. It’s moments like those that give all the staff a lift and bring home to the teams that the work they do is actually changing the way a family or an individual will feel that day.”
For more information on business or other support services or the health response to COVID-19 please go to covid19.govt.nz for more information.
Image: A thank you card from overseas visitors staying at one of the Waikato sites for freedom campers echoes some of the heart-warming feedback received by Civil Defence and volunteer teams in recent days.