Building community through kai and kindness

The growing food poverty in New Zealand coupled with the increasing amounts of food waste drove Rebekah Bell to take action. Brittany Baker sat down with the co-founder of On The House to talk over a cuppa about kai, community, and kindness.

Kia ora Rebekah! Thanks for having a chat with us.
It’s an honour to be a part of this! Thank you for having me.

We understand you’re behind the community group On The House. Can you tell us a bit about what it is and its beginnings?
On The House, in very simple terms, is a free food store. We rescue surplus food from restaurants and cafes around town, office shouts, backyard BBQ, parties – any surplus food.. maybe even a tree in the backyard budding with citrus fruit – and we give it out for free in a CBD location one day a week.

It has two main facets. The food rescue, with the focus on less waste. And the other facet is people and community.

I was initially inspired by Benjamin Johnson, who started The Free Store in Wellington 10 years ago. I thought it was a great concept – it was so simple. Not only were they rescuing food and giving it out to anyone without judgment, but they also took advantage of old buildings and spaces that weren’t being used around the CBD.

It always sat in the back of mind as a great way to build community. And there is so much amazing food our chefs create and crafters bake, and it doesn’t all get eaten or sold. It either goes to pigs or goes to landfill. We have a growing need in food poverty, and people on the margins, why don’t we bring them together? I saw an increasing amount of food being wasted. I wanted to take some action. I met another woman at the time who was looking for a passion project and contacted Ben – and the rest is history.

Tell us a bit more about the people that make On The House happen…It’s an amazing community – not just a bunch of volunteers – with hands, hearts and minds that come together to create the space. And to do all the little jobs and kindness that allows us to pick up food and give it out. There are many cogs in this machine. There’s pickup drivers, social media posts, website handlers, soup makers…

We have a different way of thinking about volunteering. It’s about building community. If you can see a way we can work better or something you might like to do – we encourage a flow of ideas. Friendly vibe, open vibe. No matter your circumstances, where you come from or where you go.

What has been your biggest lesson you’ve learned through On The House?
Oh, there’s been so many. One of the biggest ones is you may be someone who lights the fire, but you don’t have to keep the fire going. It’s something that is shared. You don’t have to take on the burden.

Growing community is sharing and being able to ask for help. Being open and honest in what you know and what you don’t know. One of the biggest things is belief. I’ve really strengthened my belief in people. I’ve met amazing people and continue to do so. Whether it gets bigger, that’s not the goal. We’re not a corporation, we’re not a charity. It’s just people coming together to reduce waste and to care for each other, ourselves and the planet.

What’s your personal philosophy in life?
Life is for living and there are so many facets to life. It is endlessly fascinating, challenging, interesting – there’s so much adventure to be had. At the bottom of everything – love it all out. It always comes back to that. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. If we have love and compassion, we can work our way through things. And drink whisky – good whisky!

What inspires you?
Everything. I’m hugely inspired by the natural world. Art. Life. People. The small things inspire me. Like listening to the wind in the trees. Seeing someone progress on the yoga mat. Building spaces where people can find themselves.

You also run Alchemy Yoga & Wellbeing in town. How does this fit in with On The House?
I believe On The House is an extension of my yoga and action. It’s not only about service, but about bringing lots of things together to make a whole. It’s not just within yourself but with others.

We speak a lot about community and no judgements and wellbeing – for me this combines all these things. It’s like a yoga practice. You come up against yourself and your own judgments; you learn to think differently, be challenged and lean in. For me they are one in the same. Care for yourself, care for others, care for the community.

How can people help On The House?
Put your hand up! (singing) If you want to volunteer, come in for an induction shift to see how it all comes together. You may not want to be in front of people. You may want to be behind the scenes, or you may want to bring something else to the table. I say rock up, see how we roll, and see what facet you want to be involved in. We align people with what makes them spark. But we do have a lot of fun on shifts, and we keep it really light. There is no separating. There is no difference between people who come in to see us and those who volunteer. There is so much richness and giving without conditions. Come and down and get kai too! Anybody and everybody!

Who can access On The House? And when or how do they?
Anyone who would like some food can come visit us. You can come find us every Thursday from 4:30pm to 5:30pm. It’s just like a store. We’ve got food on the shelves and we ask that you bring your own bag or container. If you’re happy to patiently line up, we have nourishing soups in the winter. Most people get two servings per service.

We also, as food rescue is growing, have more food that can go to other community groups. So if you’re involved with a community group that works with people in need, get in contact.

What do you do on your time off?
I’m a big reader. Walk. Yoga. Meditate. Spend time with friends and whānau. And I’m currently trying to get back to my art practice. Spend time outdoors… I like being outside.

If you could change one thing in this world, what would it be and why?That there were truly no judgments. That there was only love and acceptance. I think the world would be a much more open and creative place.

  • On The House operates every Thursday 4:30pm – 5:30pm in the carpark across from TSB Showplace, next to Vinyl Countdown. All food is fresh and free to anyone and everyone. You can learn more about On The House here or you can follow them on Facebook.