“Unfortunately, a lot of drought-affected areas overlay with some of our best farming and best cropping areas,” Ms Casey said. “What we’re seeing is a very dramatic effect on supply of food and grocery items (and) an increase in the input cost for our food and grocery manufacturers in Australia.”
Known nationally as the “kitchen pantry for social support services and charities”, Ms Casey said Foodbank’s current challenge is that farms are unable to produce traditional volume:
“Not only aren’t farmers generating an income for themselves, which is devastating for them, it’s limiting (Foodbank’s) ability to get fruit, vegetables, rice and other staple products out to our network of 2,500 charities across the country. So drought has certainly come to town.”
Foodbank’s charity partners distribute food relief to more than 810,000 food insecure Australians every month, including those in new hunger hot-spots in both cities and towns, including the drought-ravaged northwest of New South Wales and surprise Sydney suburbs like Ryde and the Hills district.
The Foodbank Hunger Report 2019 shows food insecurity in regional and remote Australia has risen 6.5 per cent in the past 12 months to 24 per cent: nearly one in four people. Foodbank has traditionally relied on staple donations from rural regions, but the drought has turned this donor base into the new “food insecure” frontier.
“Demand for food relief is going through the roof,” Ms Casey said. “The drought doesn’t stop at the farm gate. We know that drought affects local economies, we know it affects local businesses (and) schools.”
Ms Casey said some families are washing at local truck stops.
“These are confronting images…but they are the reality of what’s going on,” she said. “Demand for food relief (is) skyrocketing in both cities and country alike (and) our shelves in our warehouses (are) as empty as they’ve ever been.”
Anglicare is just one national charity distributing Foodbank provisions.
Claire Dunlop, Regional Manager Anglicare Northern Inland, said staff across her drought-affected territory are seeing people who have never before asked for help. Both she and Sue King, Anglicare Sydney’s Manager of Advocacy and Research, confirm food relief is now needed in previously self-sufficient farming communities.
“People who would normally be working, able to provide for their own costs and needs, they are now (experiencing) financial stress because of the effects of the drought,” Ms Dunlop said. “The businesses in the towns are being hit really hard. So people who might be mechanics, builders, handyman businesses or shop (owners).”
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Ms Dunlop suggested farmers on smaller properties are in a financial no man’s land, ineligible for farm subsidies and ineligible for Centrelink welfare payments too.
“They still have all the normal pressures of the farm, but they aren’t getting the income from their farm that they used to, and the farm might not be large enough to be eligible for the other benefits,” she said.
Ms Dunlop’s own township of around 10,000 in Moree, northwest NSW, is “shrinking” as workers are forced to seek employment elsewhere.
“Most people I know have been personally affected by the drought in their income, and that’s just in my normal life,” she said.
Foodbank’s Ms Casey said the charity’s drought partnership with Woolworths is critical in delivering staples to Anglicare and other frontline not-for-profits.
“Not only (is Woolworths) assisting us with fundraising, so we can purchase the products we’re not seeing donated through the supply chain, but we can tap into their network of suppliers right across the country.”
Stand with drought-affected communities by donating to these charities at your local Woolworths store: the Salvation Army, Rural Aid, Foodbank or Lifeline.