11 Dec 2015


From New Zealand Society, 2:15 pm on 11 December 2015

Social entrepreneur Sophie Barclay is cooking up change in her community.

She’s the founder of Kaitahi, a social dining initiative that teaches people how to cook using unwanted food and as a side dish, builds stronger, more engaged neighbourhoods.

Kaitahi began with a simple idea. Having just returned to Auckland after traveling abroad and looking for work, Sophie and a friend were shocked by what they saw as the rise of social inequality in New Zealand and the breakdown of community. They read about a social dining initiative in Melbourne called Open Table that used donated food and decided to start something similar here.

My friend then got a job and I didn’t and I thought “Oh I’ll just do it".

The latest effort by Sophie and her team of helpers is a Christmas dinner at the Point Chevalier Community Centre. This is the third Kaitahi to be held and already a system and a rhythm have taken hold. Inside the two kitchens a small army of neighbours and friends are attacking a large pile of vegetables while outside, chef and food writer Sam Mannering prepares a glazed Christmas ham. Sarah Lancaster from sewing workshop Sew Love Tea Do is running craft tables for making Christmas decorations from recycled materials. There is also a gifting station for donations for the Auckland City Mission.

Sustainability is the guiding principle behind Kaitahi. They only use food that would otherwise be wasted, given to them by local shops and businesses. Much of the produce they use comes from food rescue charity Kiwiharvest and the leftover scraps are collected for use as animal feed. While the chefs prepare the food they are also teaching, taking guests through principles of cooking and healthy eating.

Everyone here is a volunteer and almost all of them come from the Point Chevalier area as do the guests, who begin to arrive from about 6 o’clock. The feast is due to start an hour later. This is a more diverse bunch than you might imagine for a central Auckland suburb. Michael Lee works for Auckland Council as a programme coordinator and collaborates with Sophie Barclay on each of the Kaitahi events. Point Chevalier is his patch.

‘Point Chev is full of young families but we also get a lot of low income families. And that’s who we are targeting. Part of the whole idea is to connect the community and out of this, they make some pretty cool connections.’

The Kaitahi community feasts are still very new and confined to just one suburb but Sophie Barclay dreams of rolling it out across the city and beyond. There are plans to start a group in Manurewa and also in West Auckland and a similar organisation already exists in Wellington. Sophie says all it takes are willing volunteers and one person prepared to do a little organising.

But that’s for next year. Right now the ham is out of the oven and dinner is served. After a few words from Sophie and a karakia, the Kaitahi crew and more than 80 guests sit down together to eat.

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