A career of compassion

What would inspire a 76-year-old retired doctor to become the coordinator of a foodbank? For Rita, it was to “make a difference.”

Rita Middleton

Rita Middleton started volunteering for the Te Awamutu Community Foodbank three years ago, while she was working as a doctor part time for the Te Awamutu Medical Centre.

“I wasn’t used to having extra time on my hands, so I just decided that the foodbank would be a good place to volunteer.”

She became the foodbank’s coordinator last month, after Ian McLachlan the previous coordinator stood down.

As coordinator, Rita oversees the foodbank’s processes and makes sure it runs efficiently to reduce food waste. When she started her role, New Zealand was in the middle of its Omicron peak, and in her words, “it was the perfect storm.”

“Because supermarkets were struggling to keep food on their shelves, there were no donations from them. And so, the donations had dried up and the demand had gone through the roof.”


Rita says after going through what she called “a steep learning curve,” she is gaining confidence in her role, and considers her position to be a privilege.

“I am just growing into this job as coordinator, but you almost feel like you could make a bit of a difference for people, and that is the key isn’t it? Being able to help people and make a bit of a difference in their lives.”

Before moving to Pirongia, Rita worked as a doctor in Masterton for 30 years. She worked closely with Child, Youth and Family and was a member of Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care. Many of her clients were victims of both sexual and domestic violence. She was exposed to poverty and saw first-hand the damage it can cause.

“You get so involved in all of the horrible things that are out there in the community. It was the most emotionally demanding, and in a way, the most emotionally rewarding part of my work as well.”

“I have a great deal of sympathy for the patients who are living on next to nothing and are trying to feed their families. That is certainly why I became involved with the foodbank. Families trying to get by on nothing is very difficult.”

Rita says she is looking forward to fully understanding her new role and feeling like she is doing it competently.

She appreciates the “raw generosity from the community,” which has gone a long way to help the foodbank and make things easier.

She acknowledges supermarkets, churches, and St Patrick’s Young Vinnies for their support.

Rita started volunteering for the foodbank when she was 73.

“You can just sit around and do nothing when you retire and you’ll have your foot in the grave for a long time, or you can get busy and do things and enjoy life a bit more,” she said.

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