Bringing food relief to Wheatbelt

Wheatbelt communities have received much needed food relief from Foodbank WA, after a report into food insecurity in the region revealed the scale of the need of families and households.

Deliveries have commenced to Wyalkatchem, which will act as a hub for small surrounding communities. Merriden, York, Wagin, Jurien Bay and Moora have also been identified in the report as potential distribution hubs, providing reach into at least forty Wheatbelt towns.

Arc Infrastructure funded the assessment, which examined emergency food relief needs through the Wheatbelt. The report found that the highly dispersed population created immense logistical challenges for existing support networks, with emergency relief failing to reach the needy in smaller outlying towns.

Wyalkatchem was selected as the first hub for a trial period of six months, funded by Arc Infrastructure. Under a “hub and spoke” model the Community Resource Centre takes delivery of food hampers packed in Perth, then coordinates distribution to around ten smaller towns.

Craig Cooper, Manager of the Wyalkatchem Community Resource Centre said his staff had even paid for food out of their own pockets to fill gaps in food provisions.

“Wyalkatchem has one of the oldest populations in Australia and many people are socially isolated,” said Mr Cooper. “When we created a small food swap area in our CRC’s reception back in 2018 we could never keep up supply – even though my staff and committee dug into their own pockets to try and keep it stocked we constantly had empty shelves.”

“When Covid hit we were in danger of having to close it, but were lucky enough to be introduced to Foodbank WA. They helped us distribute much needed packages especially during lockdown to not only the ‘Wylie’ population but to a number of other small towns in the Central Eastern Wheatbelt region via our CRC network.”

CEO of Foodbank WA, Kate O’Hara said “the deepest need for emergency food relief was in smaller towns and communities located out of easy reach of the central hub towns.”

“What we learned from the needs assessment is that Wheatbelt communities already do a great job of stepping up to help their own in times of crisis. Bigger towns are doing ok, but barriers of distance and cost mean essential food isn’t getting out to the smaller more remotely located towns and aboriginal communities.”

“Our focus is on filling those gaps, in partnership with the local Community Resource Centres,” said Ms O’Hara.

Mr Cooper said he’d heard some heart breaking hardship stories, but there were probably plenty more no-one knew about.
“We had a young student doing work experience with us. One day I asked how his family was going and he said his single mum had been in hospital for a few weeks so he and his sister were alone but they were ok because they had ‘each other’.”

“We immediately delivered a couple of Foodbank WA parcels to them and when their mum was finally home she came in and thanked us. She put us all in tears, but the truly sad thing is there are so many families this is happening to out here and no-one is the wiser.”

Arc Infrastructure CEO, Murray Cook, said the company was keen to support the rollout extending through the greater Wheatbelt area where Arc operates.

“The initial project is to do the pilot study and see what’s most effective in Wheatbelt towns. It may be different to the metropolitan areas given the disperse nature and lower population in the regions. Over three years, we want to support Foodbank WA in rolling that service out to many towns.”

Ms O’Hara said, “Even after assessments are done, we don’t have a deep understanding of how great the need is in any area because some people tend not to ask for help if they don’t know it’s available. The assessment is a start and once we are delivering assistance, we will start to get a more accurate picture of what needs to be done.”

“What we do know, is that the impact of COVID-19 is being felt in both metro and regional areas. We have seen a surge in demand for food relief in towns and anecdotally there is considerable unmet need in remote areas. Over this six months, we expect a lot of people to put up their hand and ask for help for the first time.”

Foodbank WA’s boxed food hampers contain everyday food essentials and items to make up a good meal, such as canned foods, rice, pasta, sauces, long life milk and breakfast cereal.

If you or someone you know is going without food, help is available by calling The Emergency Relief & Food Assistance Hotline on 1800 979 777, Monday to Friday 9.00am -5.00pm.

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