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A quarter-century of community love

For the last 25 years the team at Palmerston North Street Van Inc. (PNSV) have been out in the community every Saturday night in Palmerston North, giving out hot drinks and food, and keeping people safe.

Founded by Lew Findlay, their aim has always been to help people, whatever the need, wherever the need. Over 25 years, they have grown from a single van to several vans and two opportunity shops.

Meriam Findlay has been involved from the start, and she says over the years they have helped thousands of people. “Our volunteers go out on Saturday nights from 11pm to 3am, giving out hot soup and food to people sleeping rough around The Square. We’re a listening ear to people with mental health issues, and they’re grateful they can talk to us. Often they’re lonely and have no contact with anyone.”

They also offer a safe ride home.

“We patrol the inner city streets of Palmerston North, keeping an eye out for vulnerable people,” says co-ordinator Aroha Apiti-de Silva. “We often meet people from all walks of life, and many are often surprised about our service.”

Meriam says she’s proud of the work the team has done over the years.

“I believe our organisation helps people change their lives for the better. In 2012, we established a second hand shop, and through this we have helped people who are new to the area, or have lost all their possessions, and need to start again, a chance to furnish their homes.”

During the week the team collaborates with a number of other organisations like Grey Power, Abbeyfield, and the Blind Foundation to help transport people to social events and outings. “Local businesses donate food to us during the week and we deliver the food to local schools, kindergartens, and to families in need. It’s very much a relationship ministry,” says Aroha.

“One of our regulars had a heart attack, and they contacted us to go and get their things from home, and take them up to the hospital. The organisation has built real relationships with people. It is a privilege to be allowed into their (regulars) space, be it through them sharing their stories, or trusting us enough to feel they can contact us to get their personal belongings, knowing that we do care about their wellbeing,” she says.

Previously the organisation offered one-to-one counselling and have successfully used a modified 12-step programme to help people recover from addiction.

PNSV have about 100 volunteers who help out on a regular basis, and the team has three paid staff. “Our paid staff also volunteer in different areas in the organisation. We have a lot of volunteers who are founding members, and due to this we have inter-generational volunteers. For example, the children who have grown up around Street Van have become volunteers themselves.”

“We have two teams who are predominantly made up of family members. All our volunteers are able to operate Street Van in their sleep. They’re so good at what they do – it makes it a real pleasure, and because they run it so well, it enables us to think of the bigger things,” says Aroha.

The Palmerston North Street Van doesn’t receive funding from the government to do their work, so they rely on grants from organisations like Eastern and Central Community Trust to help fund operational expenses. In this financial year they received $5,000 and Meriam says that kind of money is always welcome. “Not having that government or council funding gives us the flexibility to do what we can.”