THE aroma of bacon hock and vegetable soup mingles with the heady scent of baking bread as Thomas Mokomoko tends his steaming saucepans.
“I like to use whatever is in season,” says Thomas of the meals he creates. “You have to work out what’s fresh and make sure you don't go over budget.”
It has been six months since Thomas and fellow Vanessa Lowndes Centre (VLC) user Rachelle Gardner founded the V Club healthy food initiative.
Every Wednesday the pair plan, shop for, and prepare $5 lunches for up to 32 staffers at VLC umbrella organisation, Tūranga Health.
VLC kaiāwhina Christine Nepia (employment) and Kendy Riki (living with diabetes) say there is more to the club than providing healthy meals.
The idea was to use the commercial kitchen at VLC to teach healthy eating habits to Thomas, who admits that an affection for burgers and pies wasn't doing his diabetes any good.
At the same time the V Club could help the formerly-reserved Rachelle develop skills and build confidence.
We started small, says Thomas who, with some cooking and food hygiene training already under his belt, takes most responsibility for menu planning and shopping.
“Our plan was just to start making a few healthy sandwiches for staff but it built up and up from there.”
Vanessa Lowndes manager Laura Biddle says the V Club is just one solution for helping guide a person towards independent living, and the results have been beyond their expectations.
“We knew it would help but we can't believe how much. In terms of coming out of her shell and taking charge of her life, Rachelle has just blossomed”.
And as well as feeling physically better, Thomas' confidence has de-veloped to the point that, rather than being a worker in the kitchen, he is running the show. “What was a way of managing his diabetes has turned into a potential career path.”
Tūranga Health chief executive Reweti Ropiha says the organisa-tion's flexibility meant it could look across its programmes and find so-lutions to help build resilience and independence.
Meanwhile, Thomas has also re-cently joined Tūranga Health's health and fitness programme, Eke Tū, meaning his diabetes now faces the dual threat of a healthy diet plus regular exercise.
“I’m really impressed by how both he and Rachelle have taken the bull by the horns,” says Reweti (a regu-lar lunch time customer despite be-ing refused a discount by legendary “tight bugger” Thomas).
“They have taken charge of this project so all I can do is stand back and applaud their awesome efforts.”
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