The decision to leave Under the Stars was ‘bittersweet’ for Tauranga volunteer Laura Wood

Laura Wood has been working hard since October 2019. Photo / Alex Cairns

After nearly four years leading an organization that cares for the most vulnerable Tauranga people, Laura Wood is tired and ready to be with her family.

That’s why he made the “bittersweet” decision to step down from his full-time volunteer position at Under the Stars.

The charity trust – based on Cliff Rd – serves home-cooked meals and offers hot baths to people in need twice a week.

Wood, who joined the board in April 2019, stepped in as operations manager and volunteer coordinator in November of that year. At the time, he had just completed a 15-month contract as a software tester and had time to assume responsibility, he said.


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She and her husband Dean will soon be moving to Silverdale to spend time with their daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, ages four and six.

The 59-year-old has been “putting it on hold” on his move, but says now is the right time to leave.

“I’m not ready to let him go. I feel like I’m still needed and my calling is still here, but the timing is right. So now is the time to leave,” he said.

“I feel prepared but disappointed I didn’t take Under the Stars where I hoped – but sometimes things need a fresh look.


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“They say you’ve done a run or whatever. I just feel calm inside about it.”

Wood said he was tired of describing the role as “very emotionally and mentally draining”.

“I’m tired. It has taken a lot from me.

It is very disappointing that the problems in society four years ago are not improving and requests for help are increasing, he said.

Wood said the board has been struggling to find someone to replace him as a full-time volunteer. Now they are applying for funding to hire two part-time staff members.

“I don’t get paid for anything, so it’s impossible to find someone to take over. Most people wouldn’t be in a position where they could do that.”

Her job is “quite time sensitive”, but she remains confident there will be money available so the charity can continue serving food twice a week.

“We just need to do it sooner rather than later.”

Asked what kept him in the role, Wood replied: “In a very selfish way, it makes me feel needed, you know, it gives me purpose.”

He had been a foster parent for the previous 12 years and started to feel “separated” from society when it ended.


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The friendship among the volunteers and helping people re-energize him.

“When you help someone, you can see the light in their eyes – it makes you feel good inside.”

He is motivated by those who have volunteered during the pandemic, saying they are busy with other life commitments but continue to “give time consistently”.

“It gives you a reason to keep going. You’re like, ‘Wow, these people are amazing’. It’s great to be a part of that.”

He said the work they were doing was “certainly not solving the problem” of homelessness, but it was addressing an urgent need.

Laura Wood celebrates her success with Good Neighbor volunteers.  Left to right: Kathryn Kear, Julie Finlayson, Yvonne Jaensch, Michaela Murray, Rachael Martin, Laura Wood, Rodney Landrebe, Cecily Munro and Jim Cruickshank.  Photo / Alex Cairns
Laura Wood celebrates her success with Good Neighbor volunteers. Left to right: Kathryn Kear, Julie Finlayson, Yvonne Jaensch, Michaela Murray, Rachael Martin, Laura Wood, Rodney Landrebe, Cecily Munro and Jim Cruickshank. Photo / Alex Cairns

They support the homeless, along with families and the elderly living in rental properties and makeshift accommodation, he said.


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“It opens your eyes to the needs of everyone – not just the homeless. There are many people who are just hungry, struggling day by day. It’s just a matter of adjusting to those needs,” he said.

“I like to think every day of the week there’s a meal so people don’t have to go looking for something. There are places they can go and they don’t have to worry.”

During the pandemic, Under the Stars began working with other community organizations – including Good Neighbor and Kai Aroha.

Wood found himself working 50 hour weeks during the first lockdown, when the demand for cooked food more than doubled. He is busy coordinating volunteers to cook, prepare and deliver food while ensuring all Covid protocols are met.

They also had a shortage of volunteers as those aged 70 and over were asked to stay at home, he said.

“We don’t want to expose them to anything. So our number of volunteers is decreasing, but our demand is increasing.”


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Volunteers make between 200 and 300 meals every Thursday and Saturday. Usually they serve around 50 lunches on Thursdays and 100 dinners on Saturdays.

Wood created a spreadsheet with a list of all the households that needed food delivery. These were given to other groups providing food aid in Tauranga, he said.

“We will update it every night to send it to the next group so the next day they know who they are sending it to,” he said.

His final day with Under the Stars was on March 30, which he described as “bittersweet”.

Most of all, he will “really miss” the volunteers and regular guests who have been an “inseparable part” of his life.

Under the Stars serves food at 12pm on Thursdays and 5pm on Saturdays from their center on 45 Cliff Rd. Hot shower, clean towels and toiletries are also provided.


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