A new ‘food pantry’ is being set up to help vulnerable Canberrans who have found themselves unable to access the basics because of COVID-19 panic buying and food hoarding.
The ACT Government will set aside $1.5 million over the next six months to create the food pantry with organisations like Uniting Care Kippax, Oz Harvest and The Foodbank. The pantry will collect and distribute essential supplies and food for those who are susceptible or have been impacted by COVID-19.
The first stage of the Canberra Relief Network (CRN) will be to support the existing crisis and relief centres that are already working around the community. Stage two – which will begin early next week – will provide direct support to individuals and families who are unable to access existing services.
The CEO of Uniting Care Kippax, Steve Coster, said he has already seen an uptick in demand for their services and people looking for help.
“The need in our community only seems to be growing in so many different ways,” he said. “We have certainly seen an increase in people seeking our services and the food pantries that are out there at the moment.
“It is going to need to be a community, government and community sector response. All three of us are going to need to work together really well.”
The warehouse at EPIC will have 30 people working and volunteering from Monday to produce around 600 packages a day.
At the start, the CRN will not have a pick-up centre or be open to the public; however, if the situation in Canberra becomes dire, talks have begun with Bunnings to use its large warehouses as drive-through relief centres if the need arises, Region Media was told.
The criteria for help will be broad so no one in need will be excluded from receiving help, although Mr Coster is asking the public to only use the service if you have to.
“We will not be able to help people who have the means to help themselves,” he said.
“If you have a vehicle and you can get to the shops, if you have the money to finance your own purchases, if you have a family member who can go out for you, please use them first.
“We are there as the backstop for the people that do not have any of those things.”
An ACT-wide database will also be set up to monitor where the supplies are going and put limits on what people can access at any one time.
The ACT Minister for Community Services and Facilities, Suzanne Orr, said the CRN will help vulnerable Canberrans band together and get through this crisis as a community.
“We want to make sure that everyone in Canberra who is impacted by COVID-19 has access to food,” she said.
“The message is very clear, if you are isolated because of COVID-19, if you are elderly or have a disability or you do not want to go out into the public to get food, if you are unemployed and need to put food on the table, please get in touch.
“We are doing what we can to ensure no one is alone or without support during these unprecedented times, which is why we are delivering this food pantry as part of our overall economic survival package.”
Food donations cannot be accepted at this time because of safety and hygiene reasons.
If you would like to help out or volunteer, or are looking for more information about the CRN, visit canberrarelief.com.au or call 5104 9599.
You can also visit kippax.org.au to find out how you can donate and when donations will be accepted.