Millions of Australians face the threat of hunger this year, as the lasting impacts of coronavirus, drought and bushfires force people who have never previously needed help to reach out for food relief.

Charities in the sector fear that despite a positive budget, the next 12 months will be a time of enormous uncertainty, with children and single-parent families doing it especially tough.

"It's one of the toughest times we've faced in the modern era for food relief," said Feed Appeal CEO Katherine Gokavi-Whaley.

"The compounding effect of successive natural disasters meeting a global pandemic has seen many Australians facing an unprecedented level of uncertainty and insecurity."

Ms Gokavi-Whaley's warning came as the Feed Appeal annual fundraiser launches today in collaboration with FareShare and News Corporation.

The Feed Appeal aims to help those hit by food insecurity - ie, not knowing where their next meal will come from. Five million Australians, among them a fifth of all children, are expected to be in that position in 2021 and the associated impacts on mental and physical health are devastating.

The Hunger Report 2020 revealed that those seeking help to feed their household at least once a week doubled last year and overall the number needing assistance grew by 47 per cent.

Social researcher Mark McCrindle said comparisons with conditions before World War II were reflected in the research identifying young people, large families and children as needing food relief for the first time.

FareShare CEO Marcus Godinho. Picture: Stuart Milligan.
FareShare CEO Marcus Godinho. Picture: Stuart Milligan.

"(Children are) the great tragedy … these are the most vulnerable of insecure Australians," Mr McCrindle said. "As you saw in the Great Depression, a global pandemic is one such event that transforms not just society but the economy and really creates new needs.

"It's been massive, it's been transformative and it has been global, but unlike a war it's got hidden victims."

Mother-of-four Jackie Sharp said food insecurity made her feel like she was failing as a mum - an experience she bravely shares in her own words (below) to encourage others to get the help they need.

Annabelle Daniel AOM, CEO of Women's Community Shelters, said the network is "certainly seeing growing amounts of food insecurity for single parents".

Indeed, food relief charities expect the increased demand to be ongoing "for the next 12 to 24 months," said Ms Gokavi-Whaley, adding: "They're also seeing a whole lot of new faces for the first time."

"With JobKeeper and the other supplementary payments ending, there's been another spike in demand. Many (people are) facing a moment in time when they cannot afford to put food on the table while also paying the rent, mortgage and bills. For many this is the first time they have experienced this."

Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie said community services are simply unable to meet demand.

"They're … reporting 'queues out the door' … service leaders said they were bracing for a 'tsunami' of need….(and) many service providers are now telling us that these grim predictions are being borne out," Ms Goldie said.

But shame and embarrassment remain significant barriers to access, with the Hunger Report finding one in three people are too embarrassed to get help.

"Those in need, out of their own sense of dignity, don't make that need obvious, but … they're all around us and the need is all around us," Mr McCrindle said.

CEO of Food Appeal Katherine Gokavi-Whaley at the Kyneton Caring Community in Victoria, one of 52 frontline food relief charities awarded a Feed Appeal grant this year, which she calls “one of the toughest times we’ve faced in the modern era for food relief.” Picture: Rob Leeson.
CEO of Food Appeal Katherine Gokavi-Whaley at the Kyneton Caring Community in Victoria, one of 52 frontline food relief charities awarded a Feed Appeal grant this year, which she calls “one of the toughest times we’ve faced in the modern era for food relief.” Picture: Rob Leeson.

Which is why Feed Appeal works on a local grant model to help grassroots services on the ground, as requirements and responses can differ enormously among communities.

"Different communities have different requirements and the local food relief charities really know their communities," said Ms Gokavi-Whaley.

"It could be things like the ethnic makeup of the community, the type of food that is required, or if they need to get hampers into the community as opposed to meals.

"By giving them the grants we are then enabling them to meet the … significant increase in demand since the pandemic started."

After co-founding Feed Appeal 13 years ago, FareShare CEO Marcus Godinho said its task now was to fill the fridges, freezers and coolrooms the grants have made possible with free, nutritious meals for Australian communities.

This year's target is 3 million meals - and ordinary Australians can help by donating. Just 50 cents provides one meal.

News Corp Australia's Community Ambassador Penny Fowler said there has never been a more significant time to support Feed Appeal, with the demand for food relief higher than ever.

"Even more troubling are the findings of the Hunger Report 2020 that states the difficult conversation around food insecurity prevents one in three people from finding the help they need.

"We are honoured to give a voice to the people behind the statistics, raising awareness of hunger as a national issue with a community solution.

"For over a decade News Corp Australia has supported the Feed Appeal and we encourage everyone who can to support our mission to build a better, healthier Australia," she said.

MUM TELLS: 'I FELT SHATTERED'

Mother-of-four Jackie Sharp is among thousands of Australians who over the past year, for the first time ever, struggled to feed their households. Today she shares her experience in the hope that it will inspire both those who need help - and those who can provide it by donating.

"I hit rock bottom last year. I was separated, without a job and with a mortgage to pay. I have always been a worker, for 37 years, but I hit that time when I needed help. I never thought this would happen to me.

I felt like a failure as a mum because after all the bills were paid, I couldn't buy food for my (four) kids and that is a priority of being a mother.

There were so many times when they would say to me, 'Oh my god, Mum, there's no food in the house'. I felt shattered.

Mother-of-four Jackie Sharp’s own experience of food insecurity has led her to speak out to urge others to seek the support they need. Picture: Josie Hayden
Mother-of-four Jackie Sharp’s own experience of food insecurity has led her to speak out to urge others to seek the support they need. Picture: Josie Hayden

They are young and don't understand how much food costs and how much they eat, so that's why I wasn't embarrassed to reach out for help - because it was my job to find a way to bring food into the house.

I have realised that no matter who you are, whatever your background or culture you come from, these things can happen, and we all need help at times. I met lots of other women like me and I quickly realised I am not the only one who needs help. People need to swallow their pride and ask for assistance because these services are out there.

Don't be scared to ask for help. I am soldiering on and believe everything happens

for a reason. I am doing OK now. I hope in the future I will be able to give back to help others the way I have been helped."

WHO YOU CAN HELP

More than 5 million Australians won't know where their next meal will come from at some time this year and 3.24 million Australians live in poverty.

One in 5 children goes to school hungry.

Sources: Foodbank Australia Hunger Report 2020, ACOSS

THE NUMBERS

  • One in five Australian children will experience food insecurity in 2021
  • Australians seeking food relief at least once a week doubled from 15 per cent in 2019 to 31 per cent since the pandemic began in 2020
  • Overall demand for food relief rose an average of 47 per cent in 12 months
  • Embarrassment (33 per cent) and shame (30 per cent) are two of the top three barriers stopping people from seeking charitable food relief - the third is believing other people need it more (33 per cent)
  • Food insecurity produces stress (49 per cent), depression (46 per cent), anxiety (41 per cent) and sadness (39 per cent), adding to Australia's mental health crisis
  • Three in 10 Australians now experiencing food insecurity had not gone hungry pre-COVID
  • Young people have been hardest hit, with 65 per cent of food insecure Gen Z and 57 per cent Gen Y unable to afford enough food for a week

Sources: Foodbank Australia Hunger Report, ACOSS

 

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

A 50 cent donation can provide one meal. Your donation stays in your state.

Donate at feedappeal.org.au

 

 

Originally published as Devastating reality for five million Aussies