Despite our status as the ‘lucky country’, food insecurity is a growing reality. Many Australians live day to day not knowing if they’ll be able to provide enough to eat for themselves and their loved ones.
While we need bigger, broader and radical societal change to solve food insecurity and make sure nobody goes hungry, hunger relief organisations like Foodbank, one of our , are helping to put food on the tables of people in need. And their work has never been more important: COVID-19 and last summer’s bushfires have turned life upside down, and the demand for food relief is higher than ever.
‘Food banking’ started in 1960s Arizona when John van Hengel (a retired businessman) was volunteering at a local soup kitchen and noticed how much food goes to waste. After he spoke with a young mum who relied on soup kitchens and supermarket dumpsters to feed her family, he turned his heartbreak into an idea: to take ‘deposits’ of excess food from businesses and people and redistribute it to people in need.
John’s idea became the world’s first food bank: St Mary’s. Thirty or so years later, Australian Jeanne Rockey saw food banking in action in downtown Los Angeles and began to plan how to bring it to life back home. In 1992, the Sydney Foodbank was born, and it spent its first year distributing 300,000 kilograms of food and 1.3 million meals to 140 welfare agencies. Jump to today, and Foodbank is sourcing food for hungry Australians in every state.
“Foodbank is the leading hunger relief organisation in Australia. We provide food for over 815,000 people each month across the country,” says Brianna Casey, Foodbank’s CEO. Yep, that’s right: 815,000 people. Each month! The Foodbank Hunger Report 2019 reports that Foodbank provided the equivalent of 75 million meals to those in need.
While food banking started in the 1960s on the other side of the world, the way Foodbank Australia operates isn’t all that different to the original idea. It’s just bigger. “We source food and groceries for a network of 2,400 frontline charities, as well as 2,500 schools. We work with the local food and grocery industry to secure donations directly – including making purchases straight from farmers,” Brianna says.
These are impressive numbers. But the hunger crisis is more complex and severe than they’re able to show – and one of the biggest challenges to solving it is the stigma attached to asking for help
“The first time I reached out for help was really daunting.” – Zita, Victoria
Brianna points to a recent South Australian Council of Social Service study reported in that shows many people feel ashamed, awkward or embarrassed about turning to a charity for help. The survey also showed that other people hesitate to reach out because of pride or because they want to keep their independence.
Zita is one of many Victorians who count on Foodbank. She spoke to Foodbank about what food insecurity looks like to her and her family: “I’m not working at the moment as I’m looking after my two-year-old during the week and my step-sons on the weekends. All the money my partner makes goes towards the kids and the bills.”
The free fruit and veggies she gets from Foodbank are a big help to make sure her family eats well. “Healthy food costs a lot, so it’s a massive challenge to afford them once a bill comes,” she said. “The more we eat fruit and vegetables, the more our kids will eat them, so it’s setting a good habit.”
Food insecurity affects people from all walks of life: young families struggling to provide for their children, the long-term unemployed, newly arrived migrants, remote Indigenous communities, the elderly. But not everyone is affected equally – and women bear the brunt.
“Women are more likely to experience food insecurity than men.” – Lyndal Keevers, Foodbank CMO
The Foodbank Hunger Report 2019 tells us that 1 in 4 women have had some level of food insecurity in the past 12 months. “The financial burden experienced by so many because of COVID-19 has seen many women unable to afford to feed themselves or their children,” Brianna says. Foodbank also provides hunger relief for women who’ve experienced domestic violence or financial abuse, and the organisation’s work is critical to helping these women – many of whom are single parents – get back on their feet.
In 2020, demand for food relief has already seen a large increase due to COVID-19 and the 2019–20 bushfires. Briana tells us that Foodbank has sourced more staple foods in 3 months than in the past 3 years, and that a lot of that demand is coming from people who have not used hunger relief charities before. “Food insecurity affects all walks of life. It may well be that someone you know has suffered in silence with food insecurity. Let’s support one another.”
We’re 100% on board.
How you can help
For most of us, a $1 donation isn’t going to break the bank. But it can mean the world of difference. For every $1 donated to Foodbank, they can provide two meals to someone in need – a step towards making sure no one in Australia goes hungry.
Part of our mission here at Medley is to support our community. One way we’re giving back is by partnering with i=Change to donate $1 from every Medley order to a charity partner we heart. After you order your new fave piece, you can choose which charity partner you’d like to support – so you can look good and feel amazing.