Bellyful - Meet Founder Jacqui Ritchie
Bellyful's founder Jacqui Ritchie knows how important neighbourly support is when you're at home with a new baby.
The woman who admits she could probably sell snow to Eskimos has used her legendary powers of persuasion for something very good - something that has benefited thousands of Kiwi families.
TV personality Pippa Wetzell knows Jacqui's persuasive streak all too well. She found she simply couldn't turn down Jacqui's request to become Bellyful's ambassador.
But selling is what you need when you start a charity from nothing that now serves many hundreds of meals a year to struggling families, so Jacqui's former career as a mortgage and car finance broker came in handy.
Jacqui (with husband Robbie) has devoted three years to the fast-growing charity. In July she stood down as executive director but there are now 18 branches of Bellyful harnessing the passion and energy of up to 500 volunteers who cook and deliver hot meals on a daily basis. They've delivered well over 5000 meals in three years.
Three-quarters of the grateful families have new babies while a quarter are struggling with serious or terminal illness in the family but they all have one thing in common - they have few friends or family members close by to help them through their tough time.
When Jacqui tells her own experience of coping with her first baby and feeling completely out of her depth, it's clear where she found inspiration for Bellyful. She was still new to Pukekohe when Alex, now seven, was born, after a difficult 35-hour labour. A highly strung little boy, he struggled with feeding and never slept well as a baby.
By the time he was 18 months, lack of sleep, stress (Jacqui was also working full-time from home) and feelings of not coping were causing panic attacks. Jacqui was periodically suffering sweaty palms, the shakes, nausea and an inability to concentrate. One attack lasted six hours and Jacqui felt she was losing her mind.
But there was no let-up for a year. At her lowest ebb, Jacqui contemplated suicide. Apart from telling her husband, she didn't dare tell anyone, or go to the doctor because, at the back of her mind, she feared Alex would be taken away from her.
It was only on the recommendation of a friend that she came across a self-help book that led her to fight back, to challenge her own thinking and turn off the negative thoughts in her own form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
It took her months to come right and soon after, she found out she was pregnant with William, now four. But this time, the birth was greeted with neighbours and friends popping in with meals and offers of help.
"It was like a secret handshake, like saying, 'We know it's hard,'" says Jacqui. "It was an a-ha! moment for me. I thought, 'I'm not the only one!"
Bellyful, Jacqui's third baby, was born nine months later and tapped into a hidden resource - hundreds of other women (and men) around New Zealand who wanted to look after mums in need.
"It's always felt like there's something bigger than me pushing it along. I've never really strived to make it grow. I've worked hard to make it as professional as possible - there are six handbooks on protocols and policies - but in terms of growth we've never actively tried to start any branches."
But there are now moves afoot to take on Australia.
"My dream is that in 20 years Bellyful will be a given for everyone who needs it in New Zealand and hopefully Australia."
Next stop, the world, there's no stopping Bellyful now.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 19 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW