Vic lockdown spurs demand for food charity

·3-min read

The ripple effects of COVID-19 lockdowns are increasingly eating into Victorians' ability to put food on the table, charities say, even for some former donors.

Foodbank Victoria chief executive Dave McNamara says there has been a "cascading effect of disadvantage" with each lockdown, as Melbourne this week passed 240 days under stay-at-home orders.

No more evident was the phenomenon than when the charity was forced to shut the drive-through service at its Yarraville warehouse in August as cars snaked for more than a kilometre to the West Gate Bridge, blocking the exit.

"We ran a drive-through at our warehouse where people could turn up and get a contactless distribution. We did that over three successive lockdowns," he told AAP.

"The first one had about 400 cars over a weekend, the second one had 400 cars in four hours and the third one had 400 cars in the first hour and a bit."

Without the requisite space for idle traffic, Foodbank has not reopened the drive-through since and instead moved to establish pop-up stores targeting areas of key disadvantage.

The queues have not gone away, however, with hundreds lining up on Monday and Wednesday at its Melbourne CBD store for international students which opens three days a week.

"There's been about 57,000 student visits through there," Mr McNamara said.

It's not just international students struggling to make ends meet, with some previous charity donors turning up with their hat in hand, including out-of-work small business owners and those in performing arts.

Foodbank has taken the unusual step of digging into its own coffers to shore up food stocks, but is having to predict how much and what supplies it will need weeks and months in advance due to long lead times.

"The food supply chain is struggling across the eastern seaboard. We occasionally used to purchase food during droughts but this is the first time that we're constantly purchasing food," Mr McNamara said.

"We've already spent nearly $3 million this year on food. Donations are saving us at the moment. Every dollar donated is two meals on someone's table."

It will soon launch mobile supermarkets in some hard-to-reach regions, an initiative that was delayed after a container ship bought the Suez Canal to a standstill in March.

"We had to wait because some of the shelving was stuck on one of those ships that got blocked," Mr McNamara said.

"People don't recognise that global supply chain has trickle-down effects across every industry."

Expansion is also on the menu for Sikh Volunteers Australia, a community group that has delivered more than 200,000 meals to 47 suburbs across Melbourne since the start of the pandemic.

The multicultural group, best known for helping local communities during the Black Summer bushfires and Melbourne's public housing tower lockdown in 2020, says orders for its freshly cooked meals are constant.

"It's directly related with the lockdowns," secretary Jaswinder Singh told AAP.

Every time someone informs SVA they can get by without their help, someone else quickly takes their place.

It recently raised $600,000 in five days to build a new 20-burner kitchen in Cranbourne West capable of cooking 10,000 meals a day.

Mr Singh expects SVA to move into the facility early next year, and for it to become a base of operations to serve meals across the state.

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