By Colin MacGillivray
POLICE have joined school leaders and charities to support a unique grassroots movement providing food to the City of Whittlesea’s most vulnerable residents.
Mernda police officers made deliveries to three Pataka, or community pantries, in Doreen, Wollert and Mill Park earlier this month.
The Pataka movement, which originated in New Zealand, is a network of storehouses stocked with food and other supplies operating with an ethos of ‘take what you need, leave what you can’.
Mernda Senior Sergeant Daniel Jamison said police had been actively supporting charities in the Whittlesea region during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Late last year I met with the chaplain of the local Mernda Primary School, Chantelle Olafsen,” he said.
“She has been instrumental in bringing a lot of support services in the council area together. We created a partnership, with myself and Chantelle as the leads, called the Whittlesea Community Support Network.
“We brought on board different schools and different support services and organisations that would all come together to support the community, including Encompass Care who do food relief for people experiencing food insecurity in the Whittlesea and Darebin areas.”
The Whittlesea Community Support network helped link people across the community during the pandemic, including several school and charity groups.
Snr Sgt Jamison said the support network set up a Whittlesea Wellbeing Network Facebook group to help connect isolated and vulnerable people with community support.
He said the Pataka pantries were identified by the Whittlesea Community Support Network through the Facebook page.
“It’s starting to become a movement around the country,” he said.
“It’s all about community supporting community, where people can donate to the pantry and others can take what they need and leave what they can.
“They joined our wellbeing network Facebook group, and Chantelle Olafsen reached out and got in touch with them to speak about what they’re doing and how we can support them.
“Through that we identified that we could support them through Encompass Care, and Encompass Care could donate goods towards their community pantries.
“It’s great that Encompass Care was happy to donate goods, but because of COVID-19 it was difficult for people to get out and about. We thought we could support them by collecting the food from Encompass Care and dropping it off at all these locations.”
Snr Sgt Jamison said the formation of the support network and its ability to aid groups like the Pataka movement was a model for cross-community collaboration.
“This is exactly what we’re trying to achieve – linking support services with other people out in the community,” he said.
“When we met with [Encompass Care] I said we could provide a platform to help get their message out and use the influence of police to let the community know that support service was there.
“It’s also a way that police can actually do something positive for the community. I’m very big on policing not just being about catching criminals, but on supporting the community.
“We are a support service, and we should be doing more in the community when we can.
“This is a way for our police members to be thinking something different to just going out and preventing crime. This is a way of changing their attitude to go out and be supportive.”
Snr Sgt Jamison said he was keen to change the public perception of police through community action.
“We’re trying to use the influence of police to show what a good job the community is doing supporting each other. The little we can do as police, we want to do,” he said.
“During COVID-19 it’s been a challenging time for police, because while we’re out there enforcing a health direction, enforcement is not what we always want to be doing; we want to be out there supporting the community.
“In the media lately there has been a bit of pushback and negativity towards police, so we’re trying to put a positive message out there and show that police aren’t out there just to harass people, we’re there to support people.”
Whittlesea residents can find out more about the Pataka movement, including pantries in their area, by visiting facebook.com/ThePatakaMovement.
People can apply to join the Whittlesea Wellbeing Network Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/2631944300393297.