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How councils are helping to feed people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from

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Being able to feed yourself and your family is a fundamental human right.

COVID-19 and food insecurity have collided for many in the most devastating way. Not just for people experiencing chronic disadvantage, but for a whole new demographic that has never had to worry before about where their next meal is coming from.

The public often only hears about councils when there’s a negative story to tell, or an axe to grind about roads, rates and rubbish. However, more than 3.4 million meals have been delivered by Victorian councils over the past year. An incredible number, part of which has been the increased demand since the pandemic began to bite hard in March. Our councils have done an extraordinary job in responding to the challenges of chronic acute disadvantage so our most vulnerable people can access what they need to keep them alive.

Despite the sharp increase in demand on emergency services and relief items including food and shelter over the past few months, councils peeked into their crystal balls early on to forecast this rise, proactively supporting businesses and organisations who provide essential services to keep people from going hungry. Councils, more than any other layer of government, see the impacts of homelessness and hunger first-hand, made more prevalent and visible by the pandemic. There are also the less visible costs. The physical and mental wellbeing of their staff, the juggling of business as usual with emergency relief and public health, and the strain on their budgets.

We’ve heard some great stories recently that we’d like to share with you.

The City of Greater Dandenong Council began expanding their food relief services in mid-April to make sure no-one in their community went hungry. Officers were brought in to distribute more than two tonnes of fresh fruit, vegetables and non-perishable food to local aid agencies who then give the packages to those in need. A partnership with social enterprise STREAT’s Moving Feast initiative saw 1000 pre-prepared meals and 50 boxes of non-perishable food provided across Greater Dandenong, Casey and Cardinia. The meals were distributed through 12 agencies Dandenong Council collaborates with as part of its coordinated material aid project.

Yarra City Council in inner Melbourne quickly responded to an urgent need for food vouchers and packages for people experiencing homelessness and those unable to access Centrelink payments. The council’s Food Security Quick Response Grants meant the most vulnerable in our community including international students and people on bridging visas had access to healthy nutritious food.  Despite the extra pressure, the council are still delivering their established delivered meals program to over 120 people a day.

Darebin Council is working with partner agencies like Darebin Information Volunteer Resource Service, to provide weekly grocery vouchers, food parcels and pre-made meals to people experiencing local family violence, elder abuse, homelessness, and emergency relief services.

Golden Plains Council’s Active Ageing and Disability Service continues to provide essential support for the community through shopping services and delivered meals. In response to the increase in demands for delivered meals, Golden Plains Council partnered with Smythesdale IGA who retained stock so the Council could purchase and deliver products for relief packs, such as toilet paper, sugar and pasta to vulnerable community members.

The loading bay at the Ballarat Central Library has reinvented itself as an emergency food relief drop-off point. Ballarat Council reached out to the community, asking them to drop off food donations to the site to support the city’s international and domestic students via Federation University Australia 's Community Pantry, and vulnerable families at risk of going hungry.

Yarriambiack Council redeployed some of their people to identify and support the increase demand in food security, food access and Meals on Wheels. The Council halved the fee for Meals on Wheels and offer unaccompanied shopping assistance to help people aged 70 years and over with errands and groceries.

Brimbank Council delivered more than 5,880 meals through their Meals on Wheels service in April, more than double for the same month last year. For older people and those with a disability who were required to self-isolate have been particularly vulnerable, this has been a lifeline. Richard, 86-year-old St Albans resident, said carrying on during COVID-19 has been a lot less stressful thanks to his weekly Meals on Wheels service, fortnightly home care and support from his family. Council’s essential services, like Meals on Wheels, have been boosted by staff whose normal roles have been affected by the COVID-19 restrictions. Since mid-April, 18 Council leisure centre staff have taken on alternative duties such as delivering meals and parks and maintenance to help meet the demand for these services.

This is a small snapshot into one part of councils’ support for vulnerable and disadvantaged people throughout Victoria. From metropolitan councils which are home to large dense urban populations and many businesses, to regional cities and rural shires grappling with significant declines from the visitor economy, all are pitching in. Councils’ creative and responsive actions have ensured families, individuals and businesses are doing their very best to make sure people are not falling through the cracks.

Thank you to all those councils who told us their stories. If your council, or if you know of a council, that has a great story which should be shared, please let us know at: comms@mav.asn.au.