I've been thinking a lot lately about the healing power of food. Not just in the 'I've had a bad day, I'm going to eat my feelings in the form of this doughnut', but about the way food signifies care, comfort and respite.
When our daughter was born the best thing that happened to us was the beautiful food parcels delivered by a friend who lived nearby. She would send a text about 8am, saying she would be walking past our flat on her way to work, and that she would leave a food parcel at the front door. I'd stagger down, bleary-eyed and tearful from lack of sleep, and there would be a still-warm ham and zucchini quiche, a cake and - on real red-letter days - a Tupperware container of her incredible muesli. I've never forgotten how good it was. She seemed to instinctively know just when we needed it most.
I remembered that feeling a week ago when dropping off a modest food parcel to some friends with a new baby. The new dad said how kind people had been, inundating them with baby gear, and I joked that what all new parents really wanted was someone to arrive at 9pm and say, 'right, I'm taking over until the morning, when I bring you breakfast in bed'. He laughed and then said, seriously, 'getting food is the next best thing'.
I don't think you need to have a new baby to understand what he means. Any stressful life event is a good time for someone to arrive with dinner, or a batch of biscuits, or a loaf of bread they've picked up from the bakery. When my father died and the world seemed to be falling apart around us, kind people flooded our house with flowers. They were lovely, but the thing that really cheered us up was a home-delivered dinner from Angel Delivery, organised by the thoughtful office manager at my work.
Of course, there are people facing crises everywhere in the world, every day. You don't have to have a new baby, or suffered a bereavement, to need a bit of comfort. So my challenge to you, to all of us, is to do what we can, however small it may seem. If you're a cook, then by all means use your skills. If you're flush with funds, then there's a whole raft of ways to spend your cash on other people.
Here are some ways to help in New Zealand - with food, money, time or all three. Let me know if there are any I've forgotten and I'll add them to the list.
Angel Delivery: Know someone who needs a bit of cheering up but you can't be there? This is a brilliant service. The food is fantastic and all the little details are beautifully done. Don't send flowers, send food.
Bellyful: This is a volunteer service, providing meals to families with new babies or sick family members. You can volunteer your cooking, or donate money.
Eat My Lunch: Buy your lunch from this crowd and they'll donate a lunch to a child in need. If you live outside their delivery areas (Auckland or Hamilton), you can 'give two' - instead of buying your own lunch you can order two lunches to be delivered to hungry kids.
Good Bitches Baking: This is another voluntary organisation, spreading sweetness in the community via home baking. It's growing around New Zealand, but GBB founder Marie Fitzpatrick recently told me that people wanting to join or set up new chapters don't have to wait until there is a GBB in their area to 'do good': "I say, 'you don't need my permission to make a cake and take it to your local hospice, or soup kitchen, you can just do it.'" If you're not a baker but you'd still like to help, GBB also needs drivers, and money for cake boxes etc. The website has more information.
Te Puea Marae: This link has some great info on how you can help the homeless families taken in by the marae, as well as donate to their GiveALittle page.
In Australia, check out Eat Up Australia - a not-for-profit lunch service that combines food recovery with feeding hungry children. I've just interviewed the founder, Lyndon Galea, for Frankie magazine and he's a great guy with big plans.