Volunteer Mike packing food parcels into a trolley for collection at Auckland City Mission Food Security.

Friday 16 June 2023

Celebrating the Mission’s volunteers

Volunteers give us the gift of their time and are an integral part of our work. We literally could not do what we do without the generosity of our volunteers.

Every year around 2000 volunteers give their time and expertise to Auckland City Mission – Te Tāpui Atawhai, helping in services such as the Mission’s Distribution Centre, Food Security, Haeata community dining room, Op Shops and at fundraising events.  

In marking National Volunteer Week 2023 |Te Wiki Tūao ā-Motu, we would like to share the stories of some the Mission’s amazing volunteer workforce.

Volunteering inspires me

Young volunteer serving food in Haeata, our community dining room at HomeGround.

Riona serving food in Haeata, community dining room at HomeGround.

Riona Farrell, a fourth-year university student, volunteers at Haeata, the community dining room at HomeGround.

“When I first moved to Auckland, I walked down Queen Street and saw many homeless people sitting in front of expensive designer stores. It made me want to help a little.

“I have always been lucky to have food, shelter, and family support but not everyone has that. Growing up, I watched my mum help in the community and she made it clear that when you have what you need and you have spare time, you have a responsibility to help.

“Working at Haeata gives me the opportunity to interact with all sorts of people; the kitchen staff and the people we serve. There are so many characters. I think it’s important to be empathetic and understanding, and the best way to develop that ability is to be around people outside of your normal circle, to grow your bubble.

“I always come away feeling inspired because I see so many people working together towards a common goal of supporting people who need help.

“It’s cool to see what the future could look like in terms of access to housing, food, and affordable healthcare all in one place, the way it is at the Mission. And that it’s actually a nice place to be when you’re inside it. It would be so good to see this in other cities, too.

“I tell people to just try volunteering. It’s very easy at the Mission because you don’t have to commit to a regular time slot, you can go online and choose shifts that work for you. And you’ll always come away feeling good.”

 A calming influence at Food Security

Mike volunteering, packing food parcels at Food Security.

Mike packing food parcels at Food Security.

Mike Hillyer signed up to help at Auckland City Mission during the first lockdown in Aotearoa New Zealand. He had been working overseas for 30 years and returned when a contract in Australia was cancelled.

“We had been out of the country for so long that I felt a bit out of touch. I was looking for a way to connect with my community and I also wanted to mix with people outside my usual circle. I grew up in Auckland so I knew about the Mission; it made sense to volunteer here.”

At first, Mike helped at Distribution, the warehouse where donations are received and distributed, then he started working at Food Security, where food parcels are packed and distributed. There, he’s known as Uncle Mike because of his calming presence and listening ear.

“He remembers our birthdays and our family dramas, he’s been all around the world and he tells great stories,” says Warehouse Assistant Evan Damerow.

Mike says the staff are “so nice” and that he enjoys the diversity amongst the volunteers. “We have solo mums, university lecturers, a big variety. It’s really interesting and of course we all love our little guard dog, NASA.

“Working here brings home how people can find themselves in extremely difficult circumstances through no fault of their own, and how important it is to have a service like the Mission that operates on a solely, no-judgement basis.”

Ian’s got his beat back

Ian sitting at a drum kit listening to Steve.

Ian Gilroy

Meet Mission service-user Ian Gilroy. Ian is a big talent who enjoyed chart-topping success with Kiwi band The Swingers during the 1980s. The band’s biggest hit Counting the Beat went to No. 1 in New Zealand and Australia.

Back then, Ian and his bandmates were surrounded by people who shared the excitement of their fame and fortune. However, by the mid-2000s, life was a lot more difficult for him. Outreach workers from the Mission noticed him alone on a park bench in Grey Lynn and asked whether he needed support.

“I was at my worst, I was depressed,” recalls Ian. “They took me to a café and gave me a feed and supported me from there. They helped me get into temporary accommodation at James Liston Hostel.”

Soon Ian was in a permanent apartment with continued support from the Mission for food, healthcare and a keyworker. But something was missing: Ian was still pining to be drumming again and back on the music scene.

With Ian’s permission, his keyworker, Christina Ducloux, put out a call for a drum tutor and British drummer Steve Rooney came forward. He would teach Ian, at no cost, in his Greenlane studio. Those lessons are now the highlight of Ian’s week.

“It has rekindled in me the feeling I had when I was young and learning,” says Ian. “Steve is a very professional drummer, and he opens possibilities for how I can expand my playing and new ways to approach the drum set. He is very inspiring and it’s quite wonderful.”

Christina, Ian and volunteer Steve standing in front of a wall of drums.

Christina Ducloux (key worker), Ian Gilroy and Steve Rooney from The Beat School.

Steve says Ian’s story struck a chord with him. “For many musicians, their relationship with their instrument is fundamental to their core self. It’s been a privilege to help Ian rediscover his skills.”

Ian says he is “blown away” by Steve’s generosity. “ I’ve never come across anyone like him apart from the wonderful people at the Mission. I was a working person until I developed a mental illness and things got a bit difficult from that point. But I’m trying to make things better for myself and the support from Christina and Steve makes a huge difference.

“I’m very appreciative of what the Mission has done for me, it’s made me a lot happier. I really hope to be able to give back in the way that Steve has shown me, maybe by inspiring another drummer.”

Ian now jams regularly with his guitarist neighbour, Clinton Booth.

How tenants are connecting through books

Volunteers Kathy and Judy lead a reading group at HomeGround

Kathy and Judy lead a reading group at HomeGround

Once a month, a group of HomeGround tenants gather for shared reading. It’s a 90-minute session run by The Reading Revolution, an organisation that connects people using reading as the bonding agent.

Kathy Calleson leads the group at HomeGround, reading short stories and poetry aloud then inviting participants to discuss any ideas, thoughts, and feelings about the reading. Doing this together provides a richer interpretation that can be achieved when reading alone.

Kathy says that reading aloud gives a different experience of reading for both the listeners and the reader because it slows down the text and creates a relaxed atmosphere. It also ensures inclusivity of people who have impaired vision, have difficulties such as dyslexia and people who have English as an additional language.

During Reading Revolution sessions, participants can interact with great literature and use their experience to make connections in their community.

“I can’t read that well but it’s so much fun,” says tenant Mike*. We have a bit of a kōrero and try to relate to the story as well as share our own stories. Sometimes we end up talking more about ourselves than the books. It’s good to hear other people’s stories, it’s a way of getting to know them.”


Auckland City Mission – Te Tāpui Atawhai would like to acknowledge all our incredible volunteers. Thank you for helping support Aucklanders in greatest need.

If you’d like to volunteer with the Mission, register your interest here.


*Names changed to protect privacy