Community Networks food parcels – here to help

Community Networks and LINK are the Upper Clutha’s one-stop community support and connection centre. This month, we’re highlighting the food support services available in the local area. 

Your local foodbank

Community Networks food parcels are there for anyone struggling to make ends meet by taking some of the pressure off day-to-day living costs for a while. 

Our foodbank is well stocked with staple items, all generously donated by the Wānaka community and local businesses. Many of our recipients become donors in the future, giving back to a service that helped them through a rough patch. 

Pop into the Wānaka Community Hub and speak to our friendly front desk team who will help you pack a food parcel, completely confidentially. They can connect you to further support, like financial advice or a chat with the Community Networks social worker, Heather Clay. Heather can help you consider the bigger picture and find the best way forward.

A lot has changed since Community Networks started providing food parcels in 2010, especially in the last year. Since Covid-19, the need for food parcels has tripled and we’re averaging around 60-70 parcels per month. Our new Food Security Project Manager, Daisy Watford, is working on some exciting projects to minimise food waste in our community and make sure it gets to those who need it most. If you have any ideas, please get in touch.

The New World Family2Family Foodbank Appeal is collecting donations to help local families this winter. Fill up a bag of non-perishable groceries or purchase a pre-packed one to donate to our local foodbank. No donation is too small. 

Look out for our next blog, which will focus on other local food support services.

For more information, call 443 7799 or stop in at the Community Hub at 34 McDougall Street.

Connecting you to free financial advice

If you’re struggling with financial worries, Community Networks can connect you with a friendly financial adviser from Presbyterian Support Otago’s Family Works service or Central Otago Budgeting Services to help you put together a plan with confidential, non-judgemental guidance and support. 

Family Works Financial Mentor Nicole Huddleston covers the Wanaka area and can help you better understand budgeting, debt, financial products, loans and other money topics, reduce any ongoing cycles of debt and work out a financial plan that is right for you.

She explains that understanding your whole situation is key to successful financial planning. By “throwing all the pieces out on the table like a jigsaw puzzle” she can make an assessment and help you put the pieces together.

Budget advisers from Central Otago Budgeting Services cover Wanaka and Cromwell. They can meet you at the Wanaka Community Hub or your home and help you establish a financial safety net to stay on track, pay off debt and reach your future goals faster. COBS can also offer student support including budgeting workshops and help with student loans or setting up bank accounts. 


If you need immediate help with day-to-day needs like food, medical bills or counselling costs, the Community Food Bank, Community Support Fund and WellSouth GP vouchers are also there to help. 

Whatever puzzle you’re trying to solve, call 443 7799, stop in at the Community Hub on McDougall Street or visit to see what help is available.  


Community Networks Wanaka

Your one-stop community support and connection centre (Community blog)

It’s been a busy start to the year for Community Networks Wanaka and LINK Upper Clutha as we grow and enhance our one-stop community support and connection centre. Together, we provide information and support; connect and collaborate; and build a resilient community.  

Our team has doubled in size in 2021. Read more here.

You’ll be hearing more from us on what this means over the coming months, as we shine a light on the different services and resources available to you within the local area. 

Struggle got real Pink image with phone number

This month, we’re highlighting the financial advisory services we can connect you with.

Wanaka is a great place to live, but it isn’t always an easy place to live. 

Community Networks Wanaka can help you and your whānau tackle anything life throws at you, including financial worries. Whether you’re worried about getting by, up to your ears in debt, buying a house or just trying to save, we can connect you with free financial advice and support for a whole range of issues. 

From our home at the Wanaka Community Hub, friendly Community Networks staff can put you in touch with IRD to talk about tax, student loans and child support, help you complete application forms to see what Work and Income benefits you might be entitled to, or arrange a chat with our registered social worker, who can talk through your difficulties and connect you with longer-term support.

More on that next week… 

Whatever puzzle you’re trying to solve, call 443 7799, stop in at the Community Hub at 34 McDougall Street or visit to see what help is available. 

Community Networks Wanaka

LINK Upper Clutha 

Community Networks and LINK have moved

Community Networks and LINK have moved

 Following the recent move to the new Wanaka Community Hub on McDougall Street, Community Networks now has a lot more space to store contributions to its food bank. It didn’t take long for loyal contributors Rosemary and Günther to wise up to this, and they arrived with boxes of fresh produce almost before the phones had been plugged in.  

The Community Networks team will shortly be gearing up for the annual Harcourts Foodbank Drive, which always sees the good folk of Wānaka and Hāwea donating generously to help ensure everyone is able to celebrate the season, but manager Kate Murray is keen to point out that some families struggle to put food on the table all year round and not just at Christmas. Donations are welcome at any time.

Kate mentions that the move to the fabulous facilities at the new Community Hub doesn’t mean that her team and LINK Upper Clutha are suddenly awash with funding. ‘It’s not common knowledge that we’re only one of the eleven organisations needing to fund expenses such as rent to operate in this building – we haven’t suddenly found a pot of gold. We still need public support for our work in helping those in need.’

 Community Networks and LINK Upper Clutha are open 9 am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, 34 McDougall Street, phone 443 7799.

Article written by David Baker.

Mental health: stress, pressure, challenge and support

We all face challenges to our mental health and wellbeing. Emotions such as grief and sadness are part of being human and tough times are part of life’s course.

Most stressful life events*

The top ten most stressful adult life events are considered to be: death of a spouse or child, divorce, marital separation, imprisonment, death of a close family member, personal injury or illness, marriage, dismissal from work, marital reconciliation and retirement.

Mental Health NZ ( estimates that nearly half of New Zealanders will live with mental illness and/or addiction at some point during their lifetime, one-in-five suffering each year, with their physical health poorer than the general population.

Under pressure

Working closely with local social and health agencies, Community Networks have started a biannual snapshot survey of social services in the Upper Clutha. CNW Manager Kate Murray shares initial conclusions:

‘Social services play a vital role in our community, supporting people and families having a difficult time. Yet many services are operating under funding, demand and staff recruitment pressures, dealing with increasingly complex client needs, often with nowhere to refer them.

The most common difficulties among local clients are poor mental health, financial hardship, housing costs, and poor social and personal relationships.

Nearly every service reported having clients significantly impacted by poor mental health, yet the most commonly reported gap was mental health services, with demand for local counselling and mental health services outstripping resources for supply.’

National challenges

These disturbing findings are replicated nationally with Mental Health Commissioner, Kevin Allan reporting in 2018 that New Zealand needs to broaden its focus from mental illness and addiction to mental well being and recovery (, with growing numbers of Kiwis accessing health services for mental health and addiction issues, but with these services under pressure and many needs left unmet.

Often services are only available to people once their condition deteriorates. The main treatment options (medication and therapy) don’t address the broader social factors that help people and support their recovery, including factors such as housing, income, education, social and cultural connections.

To help stay mentally well the Mental Health Foundation suggests:

How to find local support

Community Networks Wanaka is acutely aware of the increasing demand for support services locally and has compiled a helpful reference guide to local counselling and mental health providers, answering practical questions such as, ‘how to find a doctor or mental health professional’ They also hold a fund that is available to help with the costs of seeing a counselor.

The Wanaka Mental Health Peer Support Group meets for a monthly walk along the lake and for tea and a chat every second Tuesday, offering a safe space to discuss any mental health struggles, free from judgement.

Further information: Community Networks Wanaka, 73 Brownston St. Tel: 03 443 7799,

*Source: the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.

Article written by Margaret Batty.

Upper Clutha Social Services- Snapshot Baseline survey results – Feb 2019

Who was behind this project?

Community Networks Wanaka has obtained a Lotteries Community Research Grant and funding from the Otago Community Trust to develop the survey and initiate the project. Kate Murray is the Project Manager, Vanessa Hammond is the Lead Researcher, and Anna Williams, Vicki McDermott and Tegan Hall are on the Steering Group.

Aims of this project?

Local social services need local data to support their work. As such, we aim to describe:

  • The issues impacting local social services
  • The issues impacting local social service clients
  • The characteristics of local social service clients
  • The local social service gaps

We need this information to inform service planning, track community wellbeing, identify gaps in service provision, and ultimately, ensure that the right services are available at the right time for the people who need them.

Results available here.


Money, money, money… in a rich man’s world

Money, money, money… in a rich man’s world

Money worries are high on the list of concerns that people contact Community Networks Wanaka about, as living in our beautiful town comes with a high price tag. The mountains and the lake may be priceless but housing is expensive to rent or buy (and to keep warm in winter), it can be difficult to get about without maintaining a private car and food is not cheap (forget limes and avocados!). 

Wanaka is a desirable boomtown but the cost of living is high and wages tend to be low in the service, construction and tourism industries, with precarious security. For example, the slow start to the ski season has been tough for seasonal workers, so it is fantastic to see initiatives running such as ‘the ski workers dinner series’ with the Presbyterian Church, offering free hot suppers every other Tuesday.

Financial stress is widespread in NZ — the Commission for Financial Capability and Wellbeing ( reported last year that 69 percent of Kiwis were concerned about money, with 44 percent stressed, 30 percent losing sleep and 25 percent embarrassed about their situation.

Help is at hand, assures Kate Murray, CNW Manager: “If you are worried about your finances please do reach out to Community Networks, we’ll help you to connect with organisations which offer guidance and benefits. We can also offer a range of practical support such as food parcels, GP vouchers and subsidised counselling.”

Family Works financial mentors are available to meet people at the Community Networks office or at their homes, to support families to build their financial capability and life skills. Team Leader Stewart Hawkins explains: ‘Our role as financial mentors is to help people make good choices so that in the future they will not be going to high-interest lenders or running up the credit card and paying only the minimum each week. We want people to become confident about their money, and learn to plan how to use their money each week, with good debt, like a mortgage or an interest-free loan, and not be financially stressed each payday. We don’t want people wondering how they are going to pay that large electricity bill that just came last week.’

The Central Otago Budgeting Service (COBS) is another local support service that provides a free and confidential financial management service with information, guidance, and support. COBS also has speakers available to give talks or run workshops for community organisations or schools.

It may be worth checking out benefits offered by Work and Income, which range from help with rent and board to child and preschool care, health services, disability support, prescriptions and transport.

Perhaps tax is your biggest financial concern? If so take advantage of the monthly Inland Revenue Department (IRD) visits to Community Networks on Wednesdays mornings. Make an appointment for help to understand your tax situation, fill out IRD forms, manage your student loan or to see if you are eligible for benefits such as Family Tax Credit. Tradies might want to seek guidance on being self-employed; for example, if you accept cash for a job and are injured you might not be eligible for sick pay, which can then trigger money and debt problems.

Can you help? If you are in the fortunate position of not relying on your Winter Energy Payment you might want to consider donating it to the Community Networks Heating Fund to help local families in need stay warm throughout the winter, or perhaps you could donate foodstuffs or toiletries to the Food Bank? ‘Above all’, says Kate Murray: ‘Do reach out if you are stressed about money, seek support to help stop the debt and stress spiral, a problem shared is most definitely a problem halved.’

Further information: Community Networks Wanaka: 03 443 7799, 73 Brownston Street. Family Works: 0508 392 5392. COBS: 03 448 8072. Department of Work and Income: 0800 559 009. Ski workers dinner series, tickets from Cardrona/TC/Snow Farm offices.

Article written by Margaret Betty.

Volunteers ‘weaving the people together’

Volunteers ‘weaving the people together’

 Over 1.2m Kiwis volunteer time and skills to their community with the volunteer spirit thriving in Wanaka. Good reason for Community Networks to celebrate National Volunteer Week from 18-22 June. Drop into CNW on Brownston Street and you’ll be sure of a warm welcome from John, Kim, Marion, Meetu, Arda or Julie, all of whom volunteer on the reception desk. ‘This years theme weaving the people togetheris particularly meaningful as we rely enormously on the dedication and generosity of our precious volunteers to help provide our services to the community’, said Kate Murray CNW Manager.

 Marion Furneaux, who worked in the first pharmacy in Wanaka in 1973 and volunteered with St John Ambulance for over 30 years, has been a CNW volunteer for the last few years of her retirement:

 ‘The days are so varied. My job is not to answer all of the client’s questions but to try to suggest an option that they might try. I listen and try to help with a way forward. I like to help people.’

(photo Margaret Batty)

As Marion and I chat behind reception hardly a minute goes by without the phone ringing or someone popping through the door. This is a buzzy community hub: help is needed to fill in an Inland Revenue form; a mum asks for a top-up from the Food Bank (whilst her energetic toddler races around the reception); there are booking requests for Wheels to Dunstan transport and IT support provided for someone without internet at home. Overseas workers, tourists and many local families come through the door for support or information. ‘People can put on a good face on the outside, problems are usually hidden. They fall on hard times for different reasons, we are here to help’, said Marion.

When she started volunteering five years ago Meetu Saklani was surprised that people in Wanaka would need basics such as clothes or food:  ‘It takes a lot for someone to come through the door and ask for help, it’s not easy. But local people and businesses donate clothes and food, so we can give some practical help and signpost people elsewhere for other services. My advice to anyone struggling would be don’t be shy to ask for help at Community Networks. You might know the person behind the desk, but all volunteers are bound by confidentiality and are there to help not to judge.’

 Meetu’s phone pings constantly with messages when we meet. She is looking forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Spice Room restaurant with her husband/business partner, in July. Juggling the management of two restaurants, staff, supplies and customers, plus her two young children is no mean feat, and yet Meetu still carves out time to volunteer: ‘I get great personal satisfaction and learn something from every shift at CNW. My grandmother always told me that giving is the most important thing. I love the concept of karma, if you do something nice to a stranger today, it will come back to you eventually!’

(photo Margaret Batty)



Food Bank volunteer to arrange stock, seek contributions from local shops and help organise the Christmas appeal.

Meals on wheels roster volunteer to coordinate driver shifts and deliveries.

Male adult role models for the Family Works Buddy Programme to spend time with young men sharing everyday activities together.

Winter garage to shelter the Wheels to Dunstan car.

Please call CNW for more information: 03 443 7799.


Article written by Margaret Betty. 

Could you help local families struggling with heating costs this winter?

Could you help local families struggling with heating costs this winter?

Community Networks seeks donations from those receiving the Winter Energy Payment that may not need these funds.

Our local community challenge

We live in an expensive, stunning and chilly place. The team at Community Networks works alongside many families that are struggling financially. Typically these families are working hard to make ends meet, are above the threshold to receive support from Work & Income, however do not have the financial capacity to help with additional expenses such as firewood.

Here is how you could help…

The Winter Energy Payment is a national initiative in which all superannuants are paid a subsidy to help with the costs of heating their homes from the 1st May until the 1st October. If you could spare all or part of your subsidy your donation will help us support those families that are struggling with the cost of firewood and heating. Last week alone we had three families with young children contact us as they are unable to afford the cost of firewood.

This scheme will be carefully managed

Donations can be made into an account (the Community Support Fund) that is held specifically for supporting families. These funds will then be used to purchase firewood or help with the cost of a power bill, based on a referral from a social worker or a financial mentor. We manage a rigorous framework around the Community Support Fund to ensure the funds are always allocated for genuine need and support. Kate Murray the Manager of Community Networks will administer these funds and gather a database of how these donations have been used to the support local families.

At the end of the winter all donors will receive a letter detailing how these donations have helped keep local families warm over our winter months and therefore contributed to the social wellbeing of our community.


Community Networks is a local grassroots organisation run by a charitable trust (the Alpine Community Development Trust) and has been operating for 15 years. We are unique to the Upper Clutha region and we are not a government organisation. We are funded largely by local trusts, fundraisers and donations. Our purpose is to be a one stop resource hub for social well-being services. Families that are struggling financially can get support via the Community Foodbank (this year we are giving out an average of 23 food parcels a month), a social worker, financial mentors, subsidised GP visits and subsidised counselling.

Take action

If you are interested in donating your Winter Energy Payment please email Kate Murray for the bank account details – If you have any queries regarding this process please call the team at Community Networks on 443 7799.

We thank you very much for your support.

Article written by Margaret Betty.

Going the extra mile…to Dunstan and Dunedin hospitals 

(Margaret Batty/Community Networks Wanaka)

Have you spotted the Wheels to Dunstan car around town and wondered why it exists?

Wheels to Dunstan is a remarkable charitable health service coordinated by Community Networks Wanaka (CNW). Clients are picked up at home by the Wheels to Dunstan car and driven to Cromwell to connect with the 7.30 am St John’s minibus that takes them to Dunedin Hospital. After their out-patient appointments the service is reversed leaving Dunedin at 3 pm, getting clients back to Wanaka around 7 pm. Clients are also ferried between Wanaka and Dunstan Hospital in Clyde for daytime out-patient appointments.

If you could benefit from this wonderful service please do not hesitate to contact CNW.

Help: do you have a garage in central Wanaka where Wheels to Dunstan could park their car over the winter?

Photo: Margaret Batty

Wheels to Dunstan is a vital lifeline for many people in Wanaka, without it they would have to rely on the goodwill of friends or family, pay for a private service and/or possibly stay overnight in Dunedin.

Nevertheless, clients face a tiring twelve-hour day with this daunting 540 km round trip. Ben Suncin explains: ‘I use Wheels to Dunstan once every two months. On those days I get up at 5 am to be ready for the driver at 6.20 am. You never know how the road will be, there might be snow or roadworks. I always take an overnight bag incase my appointment runs over and I have to stay in Dunedin. Wheels to Dunstan has made a great difference to me and to my quality of life.’ Ben is a well-known regular charitable fund-raiser: ‘I like to do appeals in Wanaka, I get a lot of help so I like to give back what I can.’ 

Odds are you will never have seen the Wheels to Dunstan car driven by the same person, as there are fifty four amazing volunteer drivers on the roster who share the daily 110 km return drive from Wanaka to Cromwell five days a week, come rain or shine, clocking up 138,000 km between them over the last three years. On average there are around 23-33 trips per month serving 30 clients. Imagine the logistics with multiple timings and destinations.

Tom Greenwood (aka ‘Tom the Pom’) is on the Wheels to Dunstan Charitable Trust Board and in charge of the drivers roster. He says simply: ‘It just works, the service tends to run trouble-free which is just amazing! People love volunteering as drivers, they just want to keep on doing it.’ CNW acts as the nerve centre for Wheels to Dunstan, taking advance requests from clients and liaising with the drivers.

Lyndsey Hughes, a regular Wheels to Dunstan user for the last few years is full of praise for the volunteer drivers, explaining to me (a Brit): ‘New Zealand relies totally on volunteers, it’s part of our culture and way of life, everyone tries to do something.’ Lyndsey used to deliver Meals on Wheels and was a Girl Guiding Captain.

The Wheels to Dunstan car is impeccably maintained, spotlessly clean and very comfortable, thanks to a team of weekend volunteers who work behind the scenes to wash the car, top up the diesel, check the tyres and generally make sure that it is safe and ready to roll every Monday morning.

I joined Tom on a regular run to Cromwell, chatting I discovered that Tom’s father was captain of a UK cross channel ferry, that sailing runs in the family and Tom once trialled for the UK Olympic sailing squad (sadly he was too light – even with a wet woollen jumper weighing down his wetsuit!).

The kilometres quickly passed and we soon met up with the St Johns bus in Cromwell. Ben and Lindsay jumped on board and we reversed tracks to Wanaka. Conversation flowed easily around the car, from the variable success of strawberry crops this summer to local news. Tom knows every nook and cranny of Wanaka and dropped Ben and Lindsay at their doorsteps with a friendly smile. 

Clients tend to offer a donation to help maintain the service – this can range from $5 to $20 and is a critical part of the budget. Wanaka Rotary and The Masonic Lodge finance most major running costs, for example buying the new Mazda car in 2015. All fuel is generously donated by Upper Clutha Transport, which Tom says: ‘is absolutely tremendous’. This is definitely not a taxi service, nor for shopping trips make no mistake!

There haven’t been any dramas on the Wheels to Dunstan service, no births or emergencies. It is one of those wonderful pieces of the Wanaka community jigsaw that enables regular daily life to run its rhythm.

The service does however have one crucial need – a garage or carport in the centre of town to park the car inside over the winter months (to save the drivers having to de-ice the car on dark cold mornings). If anyone has an empty garage please do get in touch with CNW (Tel 03 443 7799) – you would make Tom and 53 other drivers very happy! 

(Margaret Batty)