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People turn to food charities for first time as cost of living bites

·3-min read

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People waiting to get into the OzHarvest Market in Waterloo
The rising cost of living has many people turning to food relief charities. (Source: OzHarvest)

The OzHarvest Market in Waterloo, a free supermarket in Sydney for those in need, has been serving an extra 300 people a week.

“The line of customers goes right round the building before we open,” said the store’s manager, Eliza van der Sman.

“We’ve gone from serving 1,400 a week to 1,700. Many are completely new to needing food relief and are struggling to make ends meet.”

She said there were a wide variety of people accessing food relief services for the first time.

“We have people who are young professionals and they're struggling with their rents,” she said.

“Or people who have worked their entire life who you know, in their 60s, saying ‘it's the first time that my salary has not been enough’.”

Similarly, the number of people accessing the organisation’s website in search of food relief was up 22 per cent in the past three months.

Woman handing food to elderly man
Source: OzHarvest

Other providers are also seeing a spike in demand, with a charity in Coffs Harbour - which takes food rescued by OzHarvest that would otherwise go to waste - serving 90 people a day, up from 60 a day.

Van der Sman said the organisation was seeing a “new cohort of people in need”.

​​”It’s not always who you think: 64 per cent of food-insecure people have a job,” she said.

Some were feeling the impacts of cuts to government services.

“One man said due to the NDIS cuts he has had to move to a cheaper place to live as he could no longer afford the rent. The help with food was a life-saver.”

The cost of living has spiked, showing the biggest growth since 2002.

The Consumer Price Index rose 2.1 per cent in the March 2022 quarter and 5.1 per cent annually, according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

People are feeling the pinch everywhere, with low-income households hit hard by increasing costs of fuel, food, and rent.

Food relief in demand even before the pandemic

Food charity Foodbank had seen a slight reduction in people accessing food-relief services since the height of the pandemic but noted that food insecurity remained elevated above pre-COVID levels.

All but 12 local government areas (LGAs) are struggling with worse food poverty than before the pandemic, according to the Foodbank Hunger Map, with the average monthly demand for food relief up 50 per cent compared to 2019.

A spokesperson for the charity also said these stats reflected the situation before the cost of living started rising sharply.

“We’ve been warned that we must brace for further food price rises in coming months, as the influence of higher petrol prices, transport costs, supply chain disruptions and other increased input costs make their way through the system,” the spokesperson said.

Van der Sman also said demand for food relief was rising before inflation started skyrocketing.

“Food insecurity is a national problem that’s not going away,” she said.

“The statistics have been rising every year for a long time, suggesting there was a large unmet need, which escalated during the pandemic and has been made worse by extreme weather events like bushfires, drought and floods.”

In the lead-up to this weekend’s election, both organisations are calling for more government funding to support the food-relief sector.

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