'Thanks a mint': British migrant Jessica Lane picking up a welfare voucher at Pak'nSave this week from volunteers Julie Frazier, centre, and Vanessa van Uden


Former local mayor Vanessa van Uden’s been among more than 100 volunteers responding to Queenstown’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

She’s part of City Hall’s emergency operations centre response team, formed after the Covid-19 lockdown started late March.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday, she’s been packing in three-hour shifts at the Pak’nSave supermarket, distributing food parcels to laid-off migrants who don’t qualify for government benefits.

She’s been part of a “very slick” operation, she says.

“There’s a group who phone everybody who’s filled in an application form.

“They do a whole assessment and they pretty much tell us what denomination of vouchers to hand out.”

That can be up to $450, depending on the size of families.

On average, about 180 to 200 vouchers are handed out during her shifts, she says.

“Most of them I’ve talked to have lost jobs.

“There’s some really sad stories, people that were close to getting residency or applying for residency, they’ve been here four, five years, they’re part of us.

“Then you’ve got the ones that have been here a shorter time, and were on a working holiday.”

All, without exception, are “absolutely grateful for what they’re receiving”.

“We’ve probably got the best part of the job because we are the ones they thank.”

Van Uden believes there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

“We can’t say every migrant should just be on a plane now, going home.

“It would be nice to think some of those guys who have been here a long time get some jobs that come up for them.”

According to a council release last week, under its about 7500 people have registered for food, clothes, firewood, blankets, etc.

As of a fortnight ago, the council’s response team had provided more than $1.5 million worth of support, which it’s claiming back from the government’s $30m emergency management agency fund.

Volunteers had come from Volunteering Central and Red Cross, while the response team also included 62 council staff and two Otago Regional Council.

Others involved in the response include Happiness House, Baskets of Blessing, Salvation Army, KiwiHarvest, Citizens Advice Bureau and local churches have been involved along with the specially-formed Wakatipu Greatest Needs Fund.

Local iwi have also delivered care packs to whanau right throughout the Queenstown Lakes district.