FOOD­BANK’S CHAL­LENGE

FOOD­BANK FACES EVER-IN­CREAS­ING DE­MAND TO FEED THE HUN­GRY

Mt Druitt - St Mary's Standard (East) - - LIFESTYLE - Clare Mor­gan

LIKE any food mar­ket, the shelves are stacked with fa­mil­iar sta­ples: fruit and veg­eta­bles, bread, tinned food, pasta and rice, break­fast ce­re­als, sauces and condi­ments.

The dif­fer­ence is that all this food is given away.

Food­bank is Aus­tralia’s largest food re­lief agency, act­ing as a pantry to char­i­ties and com­mu­nity groups.

Ev­ery week it dis­trib­utes 125 tonnes of food from its 2000sq m ware­house in Wether­ill Park.

“De­mand def­i­nitely out­strips sup­ply,” says Tony Gatt, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment man­ager for Food­bank NSW/ACT.

Mr Gatt says Food­bank is the bridge be­tween 25,000 agen­cies and food.

“We pro­vide 109,000 meals a day – that’s the pop­u­la­tion of Dar­win,” he says.

Even so, al­most 70 per cent of agen­cies can’t feed all their clients.

“They’re send­ing away 65,000 peo­ple a month with noth­ing,” Gatt says.

Given that, it’s shock­ing to learn that ev­ery­thing in the ware­house was des­tined for land­fill – 125,000kg of food that would be thrown away ev­ery week.

“It comes as a sur­prise to most peo­ple that two mil­lion Aus­tralians are liv­ing be­low the poverty line and 200,000 of them are kids,” Gatt says. “They are hun­gry or don’t know where their next meal is com­ing from.”

They in­clude sin­gle moth­ers, peo­ple with a dis­abil­ity or men­tal ill­ness, older sin­gle women and wid­ows and, in­creas­ingly, peo­ple in re­gional and ru­ral ar­eas forced out of cities by the con­tin­u­ing rise in hous­ing costs.

The ca­su­al­i­sa­tion of the work­force has added to de­mand.

“Since the GFC we have a new class, the work­ing poor,” Gatt says. “They’re work­ing but they can’t get enough hours a week to sup­port their fam­i­lies.”

Fate can in­ter­vene, such as the woman who had to take months off work af­ter break­ing her leg while walk­ing her dog. With no sav­ings to fall back on while she wasn’t work­ing, she had to re­sort to food parcels from a lo­cal agency.

Too many times Gatt has heard sto­ries of peo­ple go­ing for days with­out food or eat­ing just once a day be­cause they don’t have money for food af­ter pay­ing rent, util­i­ties and other bills.

“It isn’t just in Syd­ney’s western sub­urbs,” Gatt says.

“There is in­creas­ing de­mand in the in­ner city but the main agen­cies there don’t have the space to run food pantries.”

At a re­cent meet­ing in the in­ner west, board­ing house res­i­dents, young moth­ers, stu­dents, pen­sion­ers, young fam­i­lies and home­less peo­ple all said they needed food re­lief. With de­mand ris­ing, Food­bank will move to a new 7000sq m ware­house in Glen­den­ning in Oc­to­ber. Yet Gatt says hunger re­mains a hid­den prob­lem.

“There’s one rea­son,” he says.

“Shame. If some­one has a ter­mi­nal ill­ness, there’s no shame in say­ing they need help. “But if they are strug­gling to feed their fam­ily, they feel ashamed so it’s not spo­ken about.”

The food jour­ney be­gins in the Wether­ill Park ware­house, where shelves and pal­lets are stacked with do­na­tions from pro­duc­ers and re­tail­ers. The items might have dam­aged pack­ag­ing or, in the case of fresh pro­duce, they aren’t per­fect enough for shop­pers con­di­tioned to buy flaw­less fruit and veg.

The re­main­der comes from part­ner­ships with sup­pli­ers. For ex­am­ple, Food­bank has been buy­ing sheep and cat­tle at auc­tion to pro­duce meat and buy­ing wheat to be milled and turned into bread.

“For ev­ery $1 we spend, we gen­er­ate $7 worth of food,” Gatt says.

“We need food but more im­por­tantly, we need money, even though we get mates’ rates.”

Each week 30 vol­un­teers are needed in the ware­house.

Along with the reg­u­lars, many come from cor­po­ra­tions as part of their phil­an­thropic ac­tiv­i­ties.

One such group has come from Mac­quarie Bank as part of its char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion.

“We wanted to give some time and labour to help more phys­i­cally,” says Mur­ray Pri­est­man, Mac­quarie’s global head of tal­ent, as he helps his team bag or­anges.

“There is an el­e­ment of team build­ing but we think it’s im­por­tant to spend a bit of time to put some­thing back in.”

Those bags of or­anges end up at wel­fare agen­cies like West­Care in Pen­rith, which pro­vides gro­ceries to about 6000 peo­ple a year.

“Some­times they’re home­less or have long-term health is­sues or they’re strug­gling with fi­nances be­cause of ris­ing rental costs,” An­drew Peach, West­Care’s man­ager of emer­gency and re­lief ser­vices, says.

In the past 18 months, Peach has no­ticed a change in the peo­ple seek­ing emer­gency food re­lief.

“There has been an in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple who come in be­cause of a small change in their cir­cum­stances,” he says.

“If one per­son loses their job or has their hours cut, ev­ery­thing can change. It’s a real change from that long-term wel­fare de­pen­dence.”

A mar­riage break­down changed ev­ery­thing for Mar­garet Gbein­tor.

The mother of two young chil­dren was home­less and had no money for food.

“I was re­ally des­per­ate,” she says.

West­Care pro­vided food and other emer­gency re­lief but also helped her get her life back on track.

“They en­cour­aged me and told me I could start again,” she says.

She is study­ing com­mu­nity ser­vices and has found a place to live in Wer­ring­ton, near Pen­rith. She also vol­un­teers at West­Care.

“I want to give some­thing back to the com­mu­nity,” she says.

To learn more or to vol­un­teer go to food­banknsw.org.au

Pic­tures: MELVIN KNIPE AND CARMELA ROCHE

Tony Gatt in the Food­bank ware­house (above), vol­un­teers from Mac­quarie Bank (be­low left) and An­drew Peach from West­Care with Mar­garet Gbein­tor in the agency’s Pen­rith food pantry.

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