National | Dave Letele - Brown Buttabean

Tough times get worse for families as BBM forced to downgrade

Dave Letele says helping poor families eat is a heavy burden to carry

Dave Letele chokes up as he explains the agonising decision to either downgrade or completely close his foodbank service run under his brand BBM.

“We just don’t have the money, bro.”

“I go to sleep thinking about it; I wake up thinking about it. ‘Cause everything we do is to help tamariki, to help children.”

Letele has had to make the hard decision to downgrade his services and, while under significant pressure to completely shut up shop, he didn’t have the heart to do so.

“We’ve gone from 700 to 1,000 families a week that we were able to help. We are now down to a maximum of 200 whānau.”

A pillar of the community

Letele, also known as the Brownbuttabean, has a well-known story. For nearly 10 years he has worked as a community leader, known for his advocacy for low-socioeconomic areas throughout the country. Letele has established a community kitchen, a food share in South Auckland and a social supermarket in Tokoroa.

All the initiatives run under the BBM banner are largely privately funded; he says he only gets a meagre sum from the Ministry of Social Development for his food services.

“Last year we got for our food parcels $90,000 for the year. We spent $150,000 alone for our Christmas events. So, there is an enormous gap there and there is nothing this year.”

Private investment crucial to BBM’s success

Letele also has his thriving BBM Motivation programme to look after, designed for people who have significant health issues and is completely free.

He has recently signed a deal with Z Energy to help keep that part of the kaupapa alive.

“They are basically helping with the running costs of what we do here. We have three gyms, one in Manukau, one in New Lynn and one in Tokoroa. Those leases cost us almost $300,000 a year, and we don’t have one paying customer.”

Z Energy has just come on board but Letele has had loyal support from the private sector, including Foodstuffs, the Tindall Foundation, Foundation North, the Ted Manson Foundation, One Foundation, Reddy Foundatio, and Whānau Ora.

But he is challenging this current government, which, he says, is hellbent on attacking poor families and communities.

“As this government keeps cutting things, there is more pressure on community groups, not just us, but there is no funding. So imagine what happens if we go? Imagine if the city mission goes? Imagine where we will be at then.”