THE Mildura food bank is looking for new and inventive ways to procure more supplies as it works to meet a swift increase in demand.
Andrew Kilroy, who runs Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council’s food bank, said requests for assistance have doubled over just the last week.
“During the worst times in COVID world, we were providing 500 people a week with food relief,” he said. “I estimate that over the next six months we will be providing upwards of a thousand people a week with food relief.”
This week the food bank is already on track to provide more than 700 people with food packages, through requested deliveries or walk-ins.
Struggling under the increase in demand, it has required Mr Kilroy to rethink the way the food bank will provide groceries to people in Sunraysia. Mildura’s isolated location makes it hard for food deliveries from Melbourne food banks to get here.
“The fruit and vegetables that come to us from Melbourne, when they do make it here, they’re barely usable and they’re right at the end of their use-by date,” Mr Kilroy said. “The other issue we face is the mileage on that food. It’s a massive cost for the transport and the food.”
Instead of relying on Melbourne-based food hubs, Mr Kilroy and SMECC have instead looked locally and to other regional towns for better solutions.
“I’m putting a lot of effort in now to work with local growers and work with local businesses to be able to get a much greater local supply of food, to be able to contribute to the food relief system,” he said.
Although, Mr Kilroy said they are always seeking more, the food bank has had a large increase in donations thanks to local supermarkets and growers after just making initial contact.
Mr Kilroy said that alongside food hubs in Shepparton, Albury, Wodonga, Bendigo, Warrnambool and Geelong, Mildura has formed the Regional Food Security Alliance where they are working collaboratively with other regional towns to find donors and then distribute the donations among those in the alliance. This has meant that when Shepparton recently received a large donation of apples they were able to send some to Mildura, rather than have ones that were not eaten in time go to waste.
Cutting down on waste has been a huge part of the work for Mr Kilroy. The Mildura food bank recently launched a GoFundMe and with the help of the Catholic dioceses of Ballarat raised $17,000 for a restaurant-standard oven. Access to a kitchen has allowed them to turn any fruit or vegetables that is edible but no longer presentable into healthy frozen meals. The Mildura food bank is one of the only food banks that is making these sorts of meals.
“Being able to provide nutrition in the food relief system is very, very difficult,” he said. “This is another thing that our oven has allowed us to do.”
Adequate fruit and vegetables have been the hardest thing to supply for people, and the food bank is always taking donations from local growers.
“The latest floods in Queensland and New South Wales is putting even more pressure on supply and it’s going to be even more of a challenge for us to provide nutrition in the form of fresh fruit and vegetables in our food hub,” Mr Kilroy said. “We’re seeking any farmers that have food that ordinarily is good to eat and is nutritious but is not suitable for distribution.”
Mr Kilroy said the current crisis has a demographic of people coming to the food bank that the food bank hasn’t seen before.
“A big part of what’s happening now are people, that ordinarily wouldn’t have been in the system, coming to us because all the money’s gone to just cost of living stuff,” he said. “I’ve seen an emergence of a new group, which I call the working class poor.”
Although the Mildura food bank does not turn people away, Mr Kilroy is asking that people look at their expenses and see if they can cut other things before groceries, due to the huge demand being felt. The food bank is also always looking for any donations or volunteers to come help.
If you’d like to help, go to smecc.org.au/community-food-relief/