Families without food for Christmas

By Holly Tregenza

Parents in Shepparton are going days without food to try to give their children a normal Christmas.

That’s the anecdotal feedback Shepparton FoodShare is hearing as it struggles to keep up with an increasing demand on its service.

Operations co-ordinator Bec Nicoll said organisations that FoodShare supplied had seen between seven and 10 per cent more people this year alone.

“We make food available to 100 agencies in the Shepparton region and some of those agencies are seeing between 40 and 50 people a day,” she said.

“But alarmingly we’ve started to see people come in who have jobs, who have mortgages, who never expected to find themselves needing assistance with food.”

Bill shock, cost of rental, long-term unemployment, homelessness, domestic violence, Centrelink payment inconsistencies and visa status are the emerging trends driving people to seek help.

“It is really tough out there, and it's affecting people across the board,” Ms Nicoll said.

At South Shepparton Community Centre, the number of families accessing the food bank has increased from just 40 in December last year to more than 90 as of October.

“That includes people from all over, including from as far as Euroa, Kyabram and Cobram,” manager Dawn Taylor said.

“We’re seeing a lot of people who can’t work because of their visa status, or who are waiting on a Centrelink payment — without it they just can’t put a meal on the table.”

The increase in need is following an Australia-wide trend that has seen the number of people seeking food relief jump by 22 per cent in the past 12 months.

With domestic violence a driving factor, women are disproportionately represented in those statistics — one in four women have experienced food insecurity in the past year.

“More than one in five Australians have been in a situation where they have run out of food and have been unable to buy more,” Ms Nicoll said.

“Locally, we’re hearing that something like an unexpected bill or a health incident is enough to push a lot of people over the edge into food insecurity.

“People's wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living, and the casualisation of the workforce makes it hard for people to know when the next paycheck is coming.”

She said breakfast and lunch school programs across Shepparton were a saving grace for families who might otherwise spend an entire day with no food.

And if the numbers seeking help continues to rise, FoodShare will be needing help to meet demand.

“We’ll be closing down for two weeks over the Christmas period, so we encourage our agencies to get as much food as they can from us,” Ms Nicoll said.

“We always need non-perishables like UHT milk, pasta, rice, pasta sauce and personal hygiene items.

There are also a number of other charities that need help to meet the demand for food, like Family Care who are doing a Basket of Joy drive.

“And of course, volunteers are always needed to help with the free Christmas Day lunch at the Shepparton Showgrounds which is run by the Interfaith Network each year.”

If you would like to donate food to FoodShare Shepparton or talk about other ways you can help, phone its Mooroopna warehouse on 0432 517 329 or email [email protected]