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‘People are hurting’: food charities in demand in Sydney’s Covid hotspots

·4-min read

Food charities say demand for assistance in south-west and western Sydney is continuing to grow, with more than five times the number of hampers being handed out each week since before lockdown.

OzHarvest, a food rescue organisation that has been providing food hampers and cooked meals for people in need, has established two “hamper hubs” in the 12 local government areas hardest hit by NSW’s Covid outbreak, in Lakemba and Granville, to deal with the increasing demand.

Sarah Flomersfeld, the NSW operations lead at OzHarvest, said there has been a 500% increase in demand for hampers since the start of this year’s lockdown in greater Sydney.

“We’ve seen unprecedented demand across New South Wales, but particularly in western Sydney. We’re delivering about 150,000kg across greater Sydney, which is about 350,000 meals every week,” she said.

“We’ve had to surge our food relief program. At the start of the lockdown, we were making and distributing 2,000 hampers a week. We are now distributing 10,000.”

One local school has joined the effort to deliver to families in need.

John Goh, principal at Merrylands East public school, said teachers had started noticing some students and their families were struggling financially under lockdown.

Related: Western Sydney was promised more freedoms when we got jabs in arms. Where are they? | Fayssal Merheb

“Some of our families don’t have a support network, where people can bring them food or any other needs.”

Goh said he and his staff deliver food hampers to at least six families a week in the school’s community.

“There’s always an assumption that families can always just go and buy online. But some don’t necessarily have that access to online shopping or that additional support of people bringing them food.

“So that’s where the school has filled in a breach, when we hear about it. Supporting families in need has always been part of our school and every public school in New South Wales.”

Flomersfeld said the demand is still increasing by about 10 to 20% a week, with demand in the 12 LGAs outstripping the rest of the city.

“It’s about where you live, not not what your job is or not what your personal circumstances are.

“In western Sydney we’re seeing a lot of large, multi-generational families who have gone from a single income to none. And that’s really tough.”

“We hear a lot from people who say, ‘Look, I had some savings last year, but lockdown last year got rid of those savings, and I didn’t have a chance to build them up again. So I’ve already used my personal financial buffer.’

“If you’re already in a low income area or from a low socioeconomic family, you don’t have your rainy day fund. You don’t have lots of people earning lots of money in your house.”

Flomersfeld said the organisation works with local councils in the 12 LGAs to distribute the hampers and meals.

Merrylands East public school is in the Cumberland LGA, and the council has set up a community exchange hub at the Granville town hall for residents to be able to access the meals and hampers.

Cumberland mayor, Steve Christou, said the council is distributing about 1,100 hampers a week.

“Our residents have been the most affected during this lockdown. We are a vulnerable multicultural community in need of assistance.

“Our community is very working class. The majority of them cannot work from home. They cannot take a laptop home and do their work from home. And many have exhausted their finances in staying home this long.”

“People are hurting. They are struggling to pay the mortgage, the rent, their bills and put food on the table. People have been crying out for an end to the restrictions and curfews.”

Goh said it has been a joy to see the number of volunteers who have helped out with the packing and distributing of the hampers.

“Whenever we have a situation like a pandemic, what we see is the very best in humanity, where people are stepping up and helping each other and caring for each other. And that typifies our school community,” he said.

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