Wingate Ave Community Centre
Being a single father with two school-aged children, Anh Mai knows what it is like to struggle to pay bills and put meals on the table.
But while the soft-spoken man is grateful for the food relief he has received from Wingate Avenue Community Centre in the past, he knows there are many people worse off than him.
“I always got just enough food for my children,” the Ascot Vale man said.
“I know there are so many other people who need help. Things are getting better now, I have my family to help me.”
During tough times he was able to get bread, milk, fruit, vegetables and eggs from the Ascot Vale food bank.
“The market is very expensive and getting this food meant I was able to save money for my bills,” he said.
He was introduced to the food bank through his English classes at the community centre.
Wingate Avenue Community Centre community development manager Kelly Harding said the service’s food bank helped up to 250 families a week.
“It’s a real mixed bag of people needing help,” Ms Harding said.
A 2016 Feed Melbourne Appeal grant of just over $7000 helped the centre buy a commercial freezer and other necessities for its food relief program.
Last year grants were distributed to 41 charities including Prahran Mission, which received a $10,200 grant for a second-hand fridge, freezer and food storage equipment.
CareWorks SunRanges in Sunbury got $10,911 to go towards a van, which will allow volunteers to stop making multiple trips in their cars to transport food.
In Frankston, Theodora’s Cheerful Givers received $4900 for kitchen appliances and shelving for its women’s refuge kitchen.
This year, as well as applying for grants for equipment, charities will have the option to apply for credit to bulk-buy food from Foodbank Victoria or PFD Food Services.
The Feed Melbourne Appeal was co-founded by Leader Community News and food rescue charity FareShare, and is supported by Newman’s Own Foundation.
Donations $2 and over are tax-deductible and every dollar raised goes to charities helping people in need.
Darebin Information Volunteer and Resource Service
There was a time when Samantha Cunningham was on top of the world.
A model, a dancer and a title-winning bodybuilder, she was confident and successful. But her life spiralled downwards with illness and depression.
Her relationship broke down, an infection led to the removal of part of her breast and she could no longer afford to run her dance studio.
“I lost my business, I lost my identity as a woman and I was on antipsychotic drugs, which made me gain a lot of weight,” the Reservoir woman said.
“I reached 102kg. I had always prided myself on my appearance and I didn’t even recognise myself anymore.”
While she was recovering from surgery, two electricity companies started charging her and she couldn’t understand why her bills were so high.
At a desperately low point, she reached out to the Darebin Information Volunteer and Resource Service (DIVRS), which gave her food and helped sort out her accounts.
“They had such compassion and empathy for me,” Ms Cunningham said. “I was able to receive fresh fruit and vegetables and bread.”
Now a personal trainer and mental health volunteer, the 63-year-old emphasised the importance of a fresh food diet.
“It is not only important for your physical health – it is for your mental health as well,” she said.
“And by providing fresh food for people, DIVRS is saving lives. Without them I don’t know what I would have done.”
DIVRS executive officer Freedom Preston said the service’s food relief program helped about 4000 people a year.
With housing costs and bills on the rise, she said low income earners were finding it increasingly tough to put food on the table.
“We’ve seen a greater variety of the people who are coming in for help, which has put pressure on us,” Ms Preston said.
“Many people are trying to stretch their low income, particularly when an unexpected bill comes up.”
But the service’s limited resources also forced them to sometimes turn people away.
One big help was a $6263 Feed Melbourne Appeal grant which helped them buy a new freezer, enabling them to store more nutritious frozen meals from food rescue charity FareShare.
“This has increased the amount of meals we can accept, meaning we can help more people,” Ms Preston said.
The service also receives fresh fruit and vegetables from SecondBite, grows their own produce and accepts food from the Darebin Fruit Squad – which harvests fruit from more than 400 trees in the municipality.
You can help organisations such as DIVRS by donating to the Feed Melbourne Appeal.
The appeal was started by Leader Community News and food rescue charity FareShare, and is supported by Newman’s Own Foundation.
Every dollar raised goes to food charities helping people in need.
Kingston City Church Emergency Resources
“You’re a dentist, you’ll be OK” was the constant assurance Brenda heard as she struggled after her husband’s untimely death. She desparately wanted to reply: “No I’m not.”
Having a successful career in dentistry wasn’t enough to shield Mrs Hughes and her family from life-changing tragedy and its aftermath.
Instead, it was her training that enabled her to realise — long before Mark did — there was something very wrong with his CT scan.
“I knew as soon as I looked at it, I could read the scans. I knew what was going on but I couldn’t say anything to him,” Mrs Hughes said.
“When I had to go home and tell the kids ‘Dad’s got cancer’, and they said ‘Is he going to die?’ I knew that he would but I couldn’t say it.”
Mark had a rare form of cancer, alveolar soft part sarcoma, and died eight and a half months later.
Mrs Hughes soon found herself a single mother with four young children, stretching the budget to meet funeral and school costs, and having to choose between food and school shoes.
“They’d worn through their shoes — they were walking around with holes straight on to the ground,” she said.
To make things worse she injured her hand, which affected her ability to work.
“We went through his superannuation, I had maxed out my credit card. Before then I’d never missed a payment on the mortgage.
“People keep saying to me ‘You’re a dentist, you’ll be OK’ and I think, ‘No I’m not’.”
After seeing her try to keep a brave face while dealing with grief and four growing children, a friend referred Mrs Hughes to Kingston City Church’s emergency resources program, a recipient of a 2017 Feed Melbourne Appeal grant.
“Just getting the food — the first box I got that week was everything I needed,” Mrs Hughes said.
“My pantry was bare, my fridge was bare and I felt that week that I could put food on the table for the kids, which meant I could get the money together to get them the things they needed for school,” she said.
“I’ve had to be strong for the kids the whole way through but I could come here and say, ‘Well, I’m not OK’.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from in life, you just don’t know what’s going on in people’s personal circumstances. There shouldn’t be any judgment or assumptions being made. It can happen to anybody.”
Things are now looking up for the Hughes family.
“I’ve still kept my qualifications as a dentist; being registered, I’ve kept all that up to date which in itself incurs costs,” Mrs Hughes said.
“I’m studying a diploma of business and management, hopefully to get into something within the management field in the dental industry.”
“Coming here I know every week I can get some milk, bread, fruit, veg. I know I’ve got that guaranteed now which is really good,” she said.
Her eldest daughter is studying part-time so she can work and help the family.
Brenda's family is just one of almost 200 families helped each week by Kingston City Church’s Emergency Resources program.
For Pastor Joy Hansen, making people feel comfortable and respected was just as important as ensuring they had access to healthy, fresh food.
“With people, like Brenda, who’ve never had to ask for help before it can be very difficult so we try to ease some of that,” Ms Hansen said.
Along with providing fresh produce and staple grocery items, the Dingley program offers light refreshments so people can drop in and have a chat as well.
“For some people, if they have lost their job they lose their self-worth,” Ms Hansen said.
“Sometimes we’ll refer people to counsellors if they need more help but sometimes all they need is someone to listen to them, who isn’t emotionally involved in their situation.”
The community food bank received a $10,000 Feed Melbourne Appeal grant last year, which was a huge help.
Every dollar raised during the appeal goes to charities, such as this one, to continue the work they do.
One of the most rewarding things was seeing people thrive after receiving help from the Emergency Resources Program, Ms Hansen said.
“A lady had stopped me to on the street to say she now owned a coffee shop — she was able to get back on her feet,” Ms Hansen said.
“People do get back on their feet. Most people don’t want to be on the dole, most people don’t want to be unemployed.
“Who would want to be in that situation?”
Helping Hands Mission
Louise Holland realised she had reached breaking point when she couldn’t afford to make Vegemite sandwiches for her kids.
The former nurse had struggled to keep her four children fed after losing her husband Rob to a rare genetic disease.
“I had given up my job to be my husband’s carer and after he died the money started evaporating,” Mrs Holland said.
“We both worked. We weren’t wealthy but you never think something like this can happen. We thought we’d be working in these jobs until we retired.
“Everyone thinks they’re invincible. Your life can change so dramatically, it could be an illness, it could be losing your job. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you earn.”
The proud mum initially refused to seek help, thinking there were people much worse off than her family.
“I was the first person to give to charity, not to take it. It just became too much to do on my own,” she said.
“It’s pretty rough when you can’t afford to buy bread — you can find yourself with 20c in the bank.”
She finally turned to the Helping Hands Mission community pantry in Airport West.
The charity helps her once a week with fresh produce, bread, meats and other groceries.
“Just to know that I don’t have to worry about the money for food is such a big help,” Mrs Holland said.
“At least I know the kids are going to get a few good, healthy meals.”
It has been a tough few years for the Holland family, with two of the children needing regular hospital visits, but there is hope on the horizon.
Mrs Holland is studying to help her get back into the workforce and would like to start volunteering at Helping Hands Mission once the family is back on track.
“Right now my priority is my kids’ health but I do want to work again,” Mrs Holland said. “I’ve still got a few good years in me yet.”
Helping Hands Mission’s three community pantries help more than 600 families each week.
Mission spokeswoman Maddy Kirby said a 2017 Feed Melbourne Appeal grant of almost $15,000 had helped the organisation establish a new community pantry.
“The money went towards shelves, benches freezers — it’s been a huge help,” Ms Kirby said.
“We don’t apply for a lot of grants so it’s really fantastic that this program exists.
“Leader has been incredible to us with Feed Melbourne and the Moonee Valley Leader’s Shelf Life campaign.”
Ms Kirby said Helping Hands Mission prided itself on never turning anyone in need away and the Feed Melbourne Appeal grant would help keep that goal alive.
“There is a real need out there; we are seeing new people booking appointments to see us each day,” she said.
“One mother told us she was able to afford tickets to her son’s graduation because of the food relief they received.”
Mrs Holland said going to Helping Hands Mission made her realise there were people who cared and that she shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask for help.
“I’m so grateful there are people like this. If it wasn’t for them there would be a lot more people worse off.”
You can help families like the Hollands by donating to the 2018 Feed Melbourne Appeal, which is led by Leader Community News and food rescue charity FareShare with support from the Newman’s Own Foundation.
Donations over $2 are tax deductible and every dollar raised goes to Victorian food charities, like Helping Hands Mission, supporting people in need.
Wesley Mission Victoria
Mary never thought she’d be excited to see a jar of Vegemite.
The sandwich spread became a luxury when the single mum and her four-year-old son became homeless.
After leaving her partner when their relationship didn’t work out, Mary was paying inflated rent on a rundown house as it was the only place that would accept her rental application.
“Once the bills came out and the rent came out you’d literally be left with nothing,” she said.
“I thought I could make it on my own as a single mum but the long hours I worked took a toll on both me and my son, and it killed the time we had together because his father had him on the weekends.”
She soon found herself and her son out on the street when the lease ran out and her landlord wanted to sell the property.
There were times she wouldn’t eat to ensure her son never went without.
She reached out to Wesley Mission Victoria, which helped her with emergency housing and has now placed her in a refuge.
A regular bag of groceries from the agency’s food bank keeps the pair from going hungry.
“I don’t think I could get through the week without it. When you’ve got people who are actually there to help you, it keeps you going,” Mary said.
“If you donate a tin of food you have no idea just the impact it can have on the person who is receiving it.
“I never thought I’d be excited to see a jar of Vegemite.”
Mary said she one day hoped to help others who found themselves in a similar situation to her.
Christine Porta, team leader at Wesley Mission Victoria’s Footscray Outreach, said the food bank helped up to 200 people, from many different walks of life, each week.
“There are so many people out there seeking help — people with disabilities, with mental illness, new migrants, people who have just lost their job or are a ‘constant casual’,” Ms Porta said.
The organisation received a Feed Melbourne Appeal grant of $7225 to buy shelving for its food programs in Footscray and Ringwood.
“This will allow our volunteers to work in safer conditions because we can store more boxes of non-perishable donations, and store them properly,” Ms Porta said.
Having a job no longer guarantees protection against going hungry, a leading social advocacy body says.
Victorian Council of Social Services chief executive Emma King said a third of all Australians living below the poverty line were employed.
Ms King said many people were only a single traumatic life event away from poverty.
“They just don’t have enough hours or aren’t paid well enough to make ends meet,” she said.
“Insecure work, underemployment, stagnant wages and a reduction in penalty rates, combined with rising energy and housing costs, are producing a toxic brew, making everybody vulnerable,” Ms King said.
“Losing your job, getting hurt or developing an expensive medical condition can tip you over the edge.”
“It’s easy to go through life thinking: ‘That will never happen to me’. Unfortunately, the old saying ‘It could happen to anybody’ has rarely been truer.
“That’s why it’s so crucial we support all Victorians, including those living in poverty but also those at risk of sliding into hardship.”
And with power prices so high, Ms King said many Victorians would have to decide between heating and eating this winter.
“We live in a modern and prosperous society. Such heartbreaking choices shouldn’t be so commonplace,” Ms King said.
TIPPING POINT OF A $4500 ENERGY BILL
Tracey O’Connell may have a job, but she says finances are a constant struggle.
The most recent blow was $4500 electricity bill after her energy provider had mistakenly failed to charge her for almost three years.
“I had AGL for my gas and electricity. You know when you get so many bills you don’t look, you just pay them? I thought they were billing me for the electricity too,” Ms O’Connell said.
She now has to make fortnightly payments to cover the costs.
The single mum has had more than her fair share of incidents to push her into financial crisis.
She was employed in the pharmaceutical industry for 17 years until she was laid off a few years ago due to a workplace injury.
“That hit me very hard. It’s a career that I believe I could have well and truly retired in,” Ms O’Connell said.
She found food relief and support at Pantry 5000, a Feed Melbourne Appeal grant recipient last year.
The Carrum food charity offers a mix of grocery items, fresh produce and pre-prepared FareShare meals.
“I’d racked up my credit card bill, I had a car accident, I had an excess to pay on my car for my insurance, you know absolutely everything mounted and I just felt like I couldn’t even get out of the mess I was in,” Ms O’Connell said.
The mother of two was so grateful to the food bank she started volunteering with them and has continued to do so for three years.
“I just felt like I’d like to give back to this place that has helped me and to give back to the community too,” Ms O’Connell said.
“It’s a sense of self-worth, you don’t feel like you are just needy and taking.”
Pantry 5000, which is run by Longbeach Parish in Melbourne’s southeast, received a grant of almost $15,000 from last year’s Feed Melbourne Appeal.
Co-ordinator Ken Gooding said some of the grant had been used to buy a new commercial freezer.
You can help make a difference by donating to the Feed Melbourne Appeal, which is now in its tenth year.
The appeal is led by Leader Community News and food rescue charity FareShare, with support from Newman’s Own Foundation.
Every dollar donated goes to food charities helping people in need.
Waverley Benevolent Society
Despite needing dialysis three times a week and having other health problems, Craig Niddrie says there are times he has gone without his medication because he just can’t afford it.
Along with forgoing medicines, he said food — particularly the fresh food he needs — could be unaffordable.
Born with one kidney, the Mulgrave man was a productive worker and active sportsman until the kidney gave out and he collapsed at work aged 24.
What followed were years of medical expenses and a transplant, yet he still required regular dialysis.
Mr Niddrie, 49, was unable to work and lived with his elderly parents, spending much of his disability pension on rent and bills.
“I used to do so many things — landscape gardening and factory work. I played footy and cricket,” Mr Niddrie told Leader.
“You never think you can reach a situation like this.”
When things became desperate he reached out to Waverley Benevolent Society which, he said, had saved his life.
“The support they’ve given me is unbelievable. Because of my kidney I have a very strict diet so the fresh fruit and vegetables are really important,” he said.
Waverley Benevolent Society president Pat Green said there was a perception that Melbourne — and Monash, in particular — was a prosperous place.
“They don’t see people like Craig who life has just kicked in the guts,” Ms Green said.
Since 2015 the society has partnered with Link Health and Community, which allows it to educate people about healthy eating and refer them to other services.
A Feed Melbourne Appeal 2016 grant of $2950 enabled the society to buy a trolley to help transport goods for its fresh food program.
The appeal was started by Leader Community News and food charity FareShare in 2009, and strives to help charities boost their capacity and collect more food to help people in need.
Donations of $2 and over are tax deductible and every dollar raised by the appeal goes to charities.
Two thirds of the amount raised goes to suburban and regional food charities, while FareShare receives the remaining third.
This year Newman’s Own Foundation is supporting the appeal.
And at Woolworths stores, customers will be invited to add a $2 Feed Melbourne raffle ticket to their shopping, with $20,000 worth of groceries to be won.