Making A Difference, One Meal At A Time
Viva and Dilmah Tea celebrate the people changing our world for the better. Brew a cup of tea and prepare to be inspired
It was almost six years ago when solo mum Rachel Aneta Wills decided to make a big pot of mince and drop it into the Auckland City Mission. She continued doing this every Wednesday for almost a year, until a friend suggested should open it up to her Facebook contacts – perhaps others might like to donate their time and cooking for those in need.
“I didn’t think much would happen but I got this crazy response,” says the 43-year-old film producer, actor and founder of Mum’s Mince, who is no longer solo.
Today, the charitable organisation has 2,400 Facebook followers, an Auckland-wide community of individuals who recognise the need for nourishing fare, and prepare home-cooked meals for strangers who need them, everything from hearty mince dishes to soups, stews and casseroles – even baking.
There’s no commitment required – anyone who would like to contribute can do so as much or as little or as regularly as they like by signing up to the roster posted online each month. Judging by the photos on the page, a lot of time, love and effort goes into each meal, not to mention plenty of vegetables.
With up to 160 people coming into the Mission for breakfast, the same again at lunch, and winter fast approaching, the almost daily Mum’s Mince donations are always appreciated, say Mission administrators, who rely heavily on generous suppliers and members of the public.
They help to bump up the protein and vegetable quotient of meals, they can be frozen and stockpiled, or in the rare instance they’re not required during the week, packed up and sent out to families as part of food parcels.
As any parent knows, it can be hard enough feeding your own family but Rachel says it was her interactions with those at the Mission that kept her contributing.
“I guess I just prioritised it. I wasn’t rich. I wasn’t poor either, just middle of the road. Those meals take a bit of time to make and drop in, but when you’re connecting with the people there you know the difference it makes. Last time I went down there there was a woman crying – she couldn’t remember the last home-cooked meal she had.”
Mum’s Mince cooks come from all over the city, many of them travelling from the outer suburbs to the city to deliver their meals. One thing Rachel has noticed is that it’s not just those who can comfortably afford to feed others who are donating, but often those with very little themselves.
“Perhaps it’s because they understand what it’s like to be in need.”
It’s not something lost on Rachel either. As a child, she says she was the one who would empathise with the bullied kids. Growing up, her father had a successful aluminium business. Then in 1987, when the stock market crashed, her family lost everything: their income, house and car. When Rachel was 14, her father took his life.
“It was a crazy time. We had food parcels delivered on our doorstep by other parents at the school. Mum was left with a lot of debt. She couldn’t feed us.”
Rachel dropped out of school and got a job, spending the next few years caught in a self-destructive riptide. Eventually she moved to Sydney, and although she stayed employed, life continued at an unhealthy pace. Then at 28 she fell pregnant with her son, Cooper (now 15).
“I knew I needed to change things. I wanted to be a good mum.”
She moved home to New Zealand, married a new partner and had a daughter, Jett (9). After her marriage broke up, she began to “turn my path inward. I felt more connected to giving back”.
Mum’s Mince has since grown to the point where Rachel now has a helping hand for co-ordinating the donations: the “amazing” Sarah Tizard works 15 hours a week voluntarily, allowing Rachel to pursue her other big commitment, her film work.
Mum’s Mince even features in her feature film, Same But Different – A True New Zealand Love Story, a creative collaboration with Kiwi-Samoan film-maker Nikki Si’ulepa. The romantic comedy-drama is based on the couple's bumpy real-life road to love. It premiered late last month at the Civic and is in cinemas now.
Things get off to an awkward start: Rachel is full of self-doubt; Nikki casts her off as a Grey Lynn mum who “just gets her nails done”. It’s not until she learns Rachel provides food to the needy that she sees her as a prospective partner. This is how it unfolded in real life, too.
“We definitely dramatised things and developed the characters. But it’s true – I had to chase her hard. We wanted to normalise same-sex relationships on screen, and make it commercial.”
There’s another connection too: Richard, one of the cast members, is a recipient of some of the Mum’s Mince meals. Art imitating life, in the most human of ways.
This is part of a special Viva and Dilmah Tea editorial series. Watch our video with Rachel at Viva.co.nz/Dilmah.
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