Shepparton's Food Link program reached an impressive milestone on Thursday, delivering meal number 5000 to local people and families in need.
Over the last 22 weeks Food Link founder Amy DePaola has worked tirelessly to help support local hospitality businesses by purchasing meals from them which are then donated to local people doing it tough.
Over this time 12 local businesses have felt the positive effects of Food Link's services with close to $56,000 injected back into the local economy.
“One hundred per cent of the money raised goes back into the local community,” Ms DePaola said.
“We’re enabling hospitality businesses to do what they do along with the agencies who support people in need - really we’re just transporting the stuff in between so they can do their jobs which is really nice.”
The program, which was initiated as a COVID-19 response, has delivered a total of 5080 meals to five different local agencies who were then able to support their clients which include the homeless, people sleeping rough, refugees, asylum seekers and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
Close to 1500 meals have also been delivered to local schools and kindergartens with the majority of these provided to single parent families.
While the program has been beneficial for locals struggling during a time of isolation, Greater Shepparton Foundation chief executive officer Cheryl Hammer said it had also had a positive effect on the hospitality businesses involved.
All of the businesses paid to cook meals said that the Food Link program had improved their cash flow.
Along with this, 22 per cent said the program allowed them to retain staff during the pandemic while 44 per cent agreed the program had a positive influence on the mental health of staff.
“People wanted a way to help but they just didn't know how they were going to and Food Link has certainly provided that,” Ms Hammer said.
“Sometimes it wasn't always about the food, it was actually about having a reason and Food Link facilitated the opportunity to knock on someone's door and ask, ‘how are you going, are you ok?'”
While the program has received $10,000 to date from the Fairley Foundation, it is reliant on community donations to continue its services.
Despite relying entirely on funding, Ms DePaola and Ms Hammer agreed there was a definite need in the community for the service post COVID-19.
With community donations, along with support from the Fairley Foundation, Greater Shepparton Foundation and Melbourne-based group Street Smart, they said they would look at how Food Link could continue and give back in a way that was needed.
“We're not just about giving out money, we're about finding out, examining and reviewing whether that was worthwhile,” Ms Hammer said.
“We want to be a bit of a lead organisation in that we have enough data so that we can tell the story before a new project or idea, we've got the evidence and a base of information.”
To find out more or to donate to Food Link visit the Greater Shepparton Foundation website.
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