Families seek food as lockdown bites

Left to right: John Wilson, Lisa Milkovic, Alex Gagatsis, Pastor Keith Vethaak and Michael Hompot with some of Transit's food supplies. 240429_02

By Danielle Kutchel

Food relief agencies across Casey have been swamped by a huge rise in demand for their services over the latest circuit breaker lockdown.

Multiple support services have reported a rise in people approaching them for essential food and groceries – especially those who have no access to government support.

Transit Soup Kitchen and Food Support in Narre Warren has recorded a 45 per cent increase in demand since the end of March, when Federal coronavirus support funds came to an end.

They’re seeing more demand from holders of bridging visas, many of whom haven’t had any work or have watched their businesses collapse over the pandemic, according to Transit coordinator Pastor Keith Vethaak.

The organization has just spent $20,000 helping keep families from being evicted from their homes over unpaid bills.

Transit is getting by thanks to the support of generous donors, he explained, but nevertheless they’ve had to dip into their reserves and have run a deficit budget this year.

“It was the only way we could do it, but we felt the needs were so great we just had to do it,” Pr Vethaak said.

Transit is feeding about 200 families a week from about 20 pallets of food from donors like Woolworths.

They’re open for click and collect of groceries and deliver items to those in Covid isolation.

Pr Vethaak said he would be interested to hear from anyone who can point them in the right direction to obtain more fruit and vegetables in the coming weeks.

At Bk 2 Basics, also in Narre Warren, founder Kelly Warren said lockdown had been worse this time around, with families unable to fall back on JobKeeper and having run out of holiday pay to rely on.

“We’ve seen families absolutely devastated, crying, they’ve never needed help before.

“It’s heartbreaking, it’s affected a lot more people this time,” she said.

Food is flying out the door as fast as the charity can get it in, with about 160 families a day – 6000 people a week – arriving for help.

Bk 2 Basics also shares its food with other services like ADRA to help in other areas.

Ms Warren believes there are many people doing it tough who are not coming forward for help.

“I’ll get messages from neighbours or family saying ‘they’ve got nothing, they run a business and they are struggling to pay the mortgage on their business or house’,” she explained.

“We’ve delivered food without people knowing, they didn’t know we were coming.”

The Bakhtar Cultural and Publishing Association is looking forward to being able to return to providing food relief to the CALD community soon.

The organisation had received funding from the State Government last year and earlier this year to support Casey families, but had to stop when funding for the project came to an end.

They’ve applied for another round of funding, set to begin in July.

Previously, Bakhtar was given funding to support up to 70 people – but this was stretched to support over 200 families.

Chairperson Bassir QADIRI said the government was aware of the “significant” demand for food relief, and was considering extending the project to six months this time.

“We went for a bigger portion [of funding] this time,” he said.

“Hopefully we get approved this time, we might be able to support even close to 300 families in this area.”

Bassir said he is receiving calls from people “three or four times a day” seeking help – but with no current funding, there’s often little the organisation can do.

“I say, ‘you have to wait. We will start helping you as soon as possible’,” he said.