From rock bottom to living legend and lockdown hero
When we asked for nominations for Awesome Aucklanders, the name ‘Dave Letele’ was mentioned more than any other. He is a legend in the South Auckland community. Inspired by his own journey to get his life back through health and fitness, Dave set up BBM (Buttabean Motivation), a platform made up of online programmes, free community bootcamps and a Facebook group that now has over 15,000 members. For Dave, BBM was all about providing a safe, judgement-free space for people to come together and be surrounded by positivity.
When COVID first hit, Dave decided to use his platform and connections to take his community work to a new level and set up the BBM foodbank to support vulnerable whānau. “I believe that if you can help you should. It dawned on me that anyone struggling before COVID would be drowning now. That was my trigger for starting the foodbank.”
With the support of corporate partnerships, supermarkets and donations, Dave managed to drum up a lot of support and has been scaling up ever since.
“I leased a warehouse, and on the first day of the recent lockdown we did 2,000 lunches. Since then, we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of individuals.”
Dave and the BBM team also started a community kitchen to educate and empower people to cook healthily on a budget. “Although lockdown stopped us from doing what we’d planned with the kitchen, we still used the facility to make meals. We looked after one particular school with 100 free meals a day, knowing that after school, some vulnerable kids go home to no dinner.”
Dave has also supported community vaccination events and teamed up with a Samoan doctor to try and tackle COVID vaccine misinformation in their community through Facebook Lives.
One of the many people who nominated Dave, Rachel Nelson, has been an admirer of his work and his journey for 13 years. She first met him when they worked together at Auckland District Health Board and has followed his mahi ever since.
“There’s an invisible part to Dave’s work,” Rachel says, “A social and emotional side. He empowers people, he supports their mental health. He walks with every single person who comes to him for help – every single person, no matter how many come to him. Yes, he gives out free kai, but he’s also out there every day counselling people, counselling parents, counselling fathers. He makes people’s lives better.”
Like Dave, Rachel thinks it’s important for people who are living through hard times to know that it’s possible to get through challenges and to believe good things are possible for them, because she has experienced it herself.
“Dave is very open about his background, and that helps others believe good things are possible for them, too. He’s got a big heart for people, he’s got huge aroha, a huge ngākau.”
The BBM team of 10 is super busy right now, so one of the main focuses for Dave is keeping the team mentally healthy, which they do through exercising together and talking. “The stuff we see can be mentally draining. We have to remember that we can’t help everyone and that’s okay. We’re just doing our best with what we have.”
Dave is always on the hustle to get more food and money to support his community, and his work is showing no signs of slowing down.
“I believe in giving back, serving my community and leading by example. So many people helped me when I had nothing, not expecting anything in return, so I’m just paying it forward. I aim to be a positive influence in my community and show people that there is hope.”
Rachel is full of praise for the continual difference Dave has made to his community. “I think he will just keep on doing this and pass it on to the next generation. He does what we call in Māori ‘mahi rangatira’ – chiefly work – because it’s about the aroha and the manaaki you give to your people. He empowers people. I truly admire him.”
Tāmaki Pūkenga Rau