Vulnerable people in Queanbeyan are being prevented from getting food from the Canberra Relief Network simply because they live across the border in NSW.
The relief network was established by the ACT Government to help vulnerable Canberrans who have found themselves unable to access the basics because of COVID-19 panic buying and food hoarding. It’s funded by the Chief Minister’s Charitable Fund and is being run by a network of established social service and emergency relief providers led by UnitingCare at Kippax.
The network would like to extend its reach across the border to regional towns such as Queanbeyan and Yass, but because it is an ACT Government initiative it can only operate in the ACT.
With the demand for basic food items and necessities for vulnerable people at an all-time high, the Canberra Relief Network’s executive officer, Cindy Mitchell, told Region Media that not being able to get food hampers to nearby areas in NSW was frustrating.
“The ACT Government has done a really bold and wonderful thing in establishing the Canberra Relief Network and is really trying to build this infrastructure for the long haul,” Ms Mitchell said.
“This could go on for another six to nine months, but now we’re at a point in time where the COVID-19 pandemic knows no boundaries and nor does it respect any jurisdictions, but we are having to limit the food items to ACT residents.
“Right now, it’s showcasing a lack of coordination, which is frustrating. We realise it’s not the ACT’s responsibility to feed everybody, but it’s somebody’s responsibility and it’s never been a problem until now.
“It’s frustrating simply because we have such deep respect and sympathy for our colleagues over the border and we like to operate as a region in terms of our social welfare and support,” Ms Mitchell said.
An ACT Government spokesperson said it is doing all it can to support the Canberra Relief Network which has seen a huge increase in demand and that each state and territory is allocated food and resources to ensure supply nationally.
“There are existing arrangements for the provision of food pantry relief to NSW residents such as Anglicare who distribute through Food Fair, Queanbeyan,” the spokesperson said.
Elaine Lollback is the coordinator for the St Benedict’s Community Centre in Queanbeyan, which is the major food relief agency in the town, along with Anglicare and St Vincent’s which each run smaller-scale food pantries.
Ms Lollback said they had reached out to the Canberra Relief Network and the NSW Government to assist with a “significant increase in demand” for food relief in Queanbeyan, which historically, has had a high demand for food from vulnerable people.
Due to social distancing regulations, St Benedict’s has had to reduce the number of volunteers in its kitchen but is still preparing about 50 meals a day for guests to take away.
But Ms Lollback said there is barely enough food to support those who need it.
“What the Canberra Relief Network has set up is fantastic, as it can be ramped up or wound down really quickly, but we don’t have the resources or the space to replicate it here,” she said.
“Our understanding is that because the relief network is ACT Government-funded, it can’t go to people with NSW address.
“For Queanbeyan, it just doesn’t make any sense as we don’t have the facilities or the storeroom to get those extra deliveries in.”
While food pantries and a delivery service exists in Queanbeyan, and also in the nearby towns of Bungendore and Braidwood, Ms Lollback said she is concerned about the supply of food if more people have to isolate because of the virus spreading.
“We don’t have the space to take a truckload of stuff. What we do have is the space for hampers and the people who can get the meals and deliver them to people’s doors, especially if the situation gets worse and more people need to isolate,” Ms Lollback said.
“Our focus is on people who are homeless or at the risk of homelessness, but on top of that, I’m now getting another three or four phone calls a day from people in a situation where they are living hand to mouth.”
In response to questions from Region Media, Member for Monaro and Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the NSW Government would work with the ACT during this challenging time.
“We need to do everything we can to support the vulnerable in our community and those doing it tough. During the bushfires, everyone rallied together to help those impacted. A lot of people are doing it tough right now and I know there is a desire to help ease that load,” Mr Barilaro said.