Bellyful – Offering Sustenance for New Mothers and Mothers in Need: Q & A
Five Questions with Jacqui Ritchie, from Bellyful.
1. What’s the purpose of Bellyful?
Our purpose is to acknowledge that parenting is hard work and especially when there is a new baby in the family. We aim to provide home-cooked meals to families who have new babies and mightn’t have others around who are able to provide that support. A few generations ago parents, sisters and relatives all would have provided meals for these families, but often now they are working too.
2. What’s its background, what inspired it’s beginning and how has it grown over time?
When I had our first child, I was quite new to the area we lived in and the support was definitely lacking! Then I had a terrible bout of depression and anxiety where I simply had to learn to let others help and support us – and to ask for help when I needed it! By the time our second child came along, I had many friends and a wonderful supporting community – and it made such a difference. Who could have known that something as simple as ‘dinner’ could help so much?
As I lay in bed one night, nearly asleep, I had a very real dream of women all throughout the community, cooking and delivering meals to each other. It seemed to me that I’d been called to start this ‘thing’ which then had no name. I really wasn’t sure I was up to the challenge, but I knew that if it was meant to be, it would happen!
I spoke to my husband about it and he was extremely supportive. I then spoke to my good friend Toni Prowse, who I knew had also struggled with being new to the area and having an undiagnosed reflux baby who never slept! Toni was working as a lawyer at the time but chose to leave work so that she could stay at home with her kids, so she was really excited to be a part of ‘this’. We spoke to a couple more friends who were interested, and the four of us started Bellyful Franklin (Pukekohe and the surrounding areas). Soon after starting, we were approached by a designer, Angela Vink of www.doppel.co.nz who offered to work for us pro bono on all of our design work and a website – she’s now worked for free for 2 years! Having Ange has meant that from day one we have been able to have a well presented brand, and high quality print media. That’s made a big difference to how seriously we’ve been taken by supporters.
Our initial team of four had to decide on a name, and after some intense brainstorming, we came up with ‘Bellyful’. We also decided that the best way to work would be if we all prepared the meals together at one time and then stored them in a freezer until they were needed. We started referring to these as ‘cookathons’ and initially they were held every six weeks. We spoke to our local Plunket, midwives, doctors and nurses and mum / parent support groups about what we were doing and the referrals started rolling in!
We made it clear to everyone from the beginning that what we are not a food bank. There are services that already cover that area. What we are, is a support and encouragement system for mums and their families – and we figure the best support we can provide, is dinner! We are not helping only mums that are struggling financially, but ALL mums – even those who are financially independent! Because the difficulty of a newborn isn’t eased by having money, but by having support. We never give advice to mums – we don’t arrived armed with information on how to be ‘The Best Mother’ (we wouldn’t know how! we too are simply mums who gave it their best), we just arrive with three home-cooked meals that are frozen and ready to be heated as needed. Our meals are usually macaroni cheese, spagetti bolognese and lasagna – simple food that suits our biggest critics; the three year olds in the family!
In September 2010, I met Lynda Schoen at the Sistas Womens Conference. I shared my story about Bellyful with her and she immediately knew that it was something she wanted to be a part of. Lynda lives in West Auckland and she knew that she could start a great branch in her area.
In February, I was contacted by Hadyn Jones from TV1′s Goodsorts Segment, to say that we had been nominated, which was very exciting! So we all did our hair, popped on some lippy and high heels and headed off to hold a ‘cookathon’ for the cameras! Within hours of the segment about Bellyful being aired we had emails from women all around NZ wanting to start branches in their towns. It was fantastic and overwhelming all at once!
We now have 7 branches; Bellyful NZ (head office), West Auckland, Central Auckland, Carterton, Porirua, Karori – Wellington and Temuka. There are also some very interested women in Dunedin who will most likely be starting a branch very soon.
3. Can you describe some good deeds Bellyful has helped facilitate, or is currently working on?
It became apparent quite soon after we started that another area where ‘dinner’ was needed, was in families with babies or children in hospital. It can be extremely hard on all of the family when one of them is in hospital. Long days spent in hospitals is boring for kids and very stressful for their parents! So we’ve been very happy to be able to help support many families who have gone through horrendous times with sick or terminally ill children in hospital. It’s so sad to see what some families go through but it’s a wonderful feeling to know that we’re helping in some way.
4. What are the future aspirations of Bellyful?
Our aim is to have Bellyful branches in every town and suburb of NZ, and then maybe globally! And in doing so, we hope that more people will be encouraged to ask for help when they need it, and others will be encouraged to step forward and offer help to families with new babies. Let’s change the world, one home-cooked meal at a time!
5. Would you like to share anything else about Bellyful?
We’d love to have new branches started, and we need volunteers to help with this. Starting a new branch is a lot of hard work, but we do provide lots of support! We have a 30+ page booklet which outlines exactly what you need to do and how it all works, which does make it a little easier. But you’ve to be prepared to put in quite a bit of time in the early stages. The key is to have a big network of volunteers! If you think that you’d like to start a branch, I encourage you to speak to your friends and see if you’ve got a few people interested initially (no branch is a one-man-band!) and then contact Jacqui (firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out more.
Bellyful is run entirely by donations and sponsorship. If you are a business owner and would like to talk about a mutually beneficial relationship, please do get in touch with Jacqui. If you’d like to make a donation, we’d be very grateful!
Internet or manually bank your donation into Bellyful NZ bank account (PLEASE USE THE REFERENCES AS FOLLOWS)
Name of account: Bellyful NZ
Reference is: BFNZ
Code is: Donate
Particulars: your surname and first inital (i.e. if your name was Jacqui Ritchie, you would enter Ritchie J)
Photos courtesy of Elocal Magazine