Kriddles Roberts - the changing face of Rotary in west Auckland. Photo: Supplied

On a chilly Saturday morning, inside a big shed at Corbans Art Centre in west Auckland, you can hear the drums of a reggae band warming up. 

People are sorting through piles of used clothing and blankets, the barbecue is fired up for a sausage sizzle and children are playing on a bouncy castle. 

It looks like a typical Kiwi fundraiser, except here everything is free – from the food to the brand-new kids’ backpacks and toys. There are security men at the doors and on the road, and everyone is welcomed in. 

Behind it all, wearing a bright orange hi-vis vest, is Kriddles Roberts. Through her charity, Unity in Our Community, she’s in daily contact with people sleeping in their cars or multi-generational families crammed into small houses.  

This event is for them.  

“Poverty has no timeframe or culture,” she says.   

“The reason why Unity was created was because of the homeless families, the babies, the nanas all living in cars. That’s what triggered it and that’s why nothing is for sale – because how are you going to sell something to homeless people?” 

The Detail spoke to Roberts two years ago when she became the new president of the Waitākere Rotary Club – the face of change and diversity at the organisation.  

For this event she brings her two roles together. She’s helping those people she lives and breathes for, and she’s tapping into the “huge machine” of Rotary, with its business connections and networks around Auckland. 

In turn, Rotary members are here to help, and try to recruit more members.  

One Rotarian stands behind a table offering bottles of water and talking to people about the organisation. 

“My goal is to get a more diverse and younger audience into Rotary and I’ve identified that having more hands-on projects is the key to that,” he says. 

On the table, he has a spread of photos of Rotary working bees, including one where they converted an unsafe playground into garden beds for a west Auckland school that was joining a garden-to-table programme. 

Roberts says it’s important to have Rotary on board – she respects the organisation, and she hopes more clubs will get involved. 

Roberts’ mentor, Rotary leader Elaine Mead, calls her a breath of fresh air. She says it shows Rotary “wasn’t just a bunch of pale, stale, business-only people”. The organisation was set up in 1905 with the aim of giving back to the community and with members like Roberts, it’s going back to its roots. 

“Partnering is where we need to go and Kriddles brought that. She wasn’t the usual Rotarian at the time and that was awesome,” Mead says. 

Roberts organised regular free events in south and west Auckland for several years until Covid-19 stopped them. But this time around, it’s different, she says. Some of the groups and individuals who donated and helped with their time and skills at previous events now need help themselves. 

Roberts just wants the people who come along to have “a beautiful experience”. 

“I want them to fill up their cupboards, their wardrobes, everything that they can, so you know you’ve got a peaceful week the following week.” 

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Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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