8 March 2024

People you know could be silently struggling with food insecurity: here's how to help

| Dione David
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Communities@Work food pantry client Lydia

Circumstances anyone could find themselves in led Lydia Cox to a Communities at Work food pantry. Photo: Communities at Work.

Canberra woman Lydia Cox sat in her car for some time, plucking up the courage to enter the Communities at Work food pantry.

“I thought, how are we here? Why are we here? Am I in this place where I need to ask for help for something so basic as food?” she says.

“It was a very humbling place to be.”

Her middle-income family had spent years saving and had just entered into a mortgage for their first home when the company Lydia’s husband Lyndon worked for shut down.

Lydia, who had been at home with a toddler and a baby, joined her husband in a job search, but despite both having degrees, they could not secure work.

“So we had the expense of the house, bills, two little children … and no income,” she says.

“We had come from everything ticking over to suddenly taking a dip. By the time the bills were paid and we’d filled the car with petrol, we had next to nothing for anything else – that included groceries.”

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With two children in tow, she entered the food pantry, a place she says felt devoid of stigma.

“It was a bit weird walking in because … to look at me, no one would think I needed to use a food pantry,” she says.

“I thought, ‘Are people going to look at me weird? Are people going to judge me?’

“No one batted an eyelid; it was a really positive experience.”

“There was something really powerful about being given that help … When you are able to take that burden off someone, that person can use that mind space to get back on their feet; it’s a really cool thing.”

Stories like Lydia’s are becoming alarmingly common. Even working families in Canberra with two incomes are hurting due to the cost-of-living crisis, spiking demand for food and crisis support.

According to Communities at Work Director of Fundraising and Marketing Elna Jennings, the “working poor” is a major concern for community service organisations.

“Across the board, from your next-door neighbour to the person who comes to clean your house or the mum standing next to you at school pick-ups, it could be anyone,” she says.

“They’re this unseen and faceless population of people among us in the community with silent yet desperate cries for support and assistance. Sometimes they are unaware of the support they can get; other times they feel embarrassed to turn to support services such as our own.”

two people shaking hands

Aussie Peace Walk event director Chris Edwards with Communities at Work director marketing and fundraising Elna Jennings. Photo: Communities at Work.

Last year, one in three visitors to Communities at Work food pantries were people needing help for the first time.

“In 2023, we had a 90 per cent increase in food bank cards provided to clients,” Elna says.

Normal fundraising isn’t coping, so Communities at Work is teaming up with the Aussie Peace Walk to do something about it.

As part of the Aussie Peace Walk weekend, Communities at Work will present the inaugural ‘MarchMingle’ 7 km charity walk kicking off from Lennox Gardens on Saturday, 23 and Sunday, 24 March, to raise funds for its food pantries.

Communities at Work hopes to raise at least $110,000 through the appeal to supplement generous food donations from the community and supplies through partner organisations like OZ Harvest to help cover the annual cost of supplying food for their Tuggeranong and Gungahlin pantries.

This would provide about a third of the organisation’s costs to stock their two food pantries for a year.

“It’s a big goal, but we’ve got to do it,” Elna says. “I know Canberra has a big heart. Excuse my sense of humour – if everyone chips in, $110,000 is a walk in the park!”

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The Peace Walk banner perfectly aligns with Communities at Work because of the number of culturally and linguistically diverse families impacted by food insecurity.

“Top nationalities that seek our assistance are Australian, New Zealander, Filipino, Chinese, Iranian, Indian, English, Afghani, Sudanese and Iraqi. We know the diversity of Canberra’s multicultural communities extends beyond those nationalities, and we want them to know we’re here to help,” Elna says.

The Peace Walks, launched in 2021 by a group of people from different Rotary Clubs, is about getting people of different nationalities, ages, and economic standing to diverge from their bubbles and mix.

The MarchMingle, the shortest walking distance out of the Aussie Peace Walk events, has been designed as a fully accessible route for families of all ages and abilities to undertake.

“Communities at Work is about inclusion, so it made sense to present this event to raise funds and unite the community in a mutual understanding of the challenges faced across different groups.

“We hope to see grandparents with grandchildren, parents with prams, and we hope to see corporations get behind it because you never know who you might be supporting in this cause.”

MarchMingle takes place on Saturday, 23 March, and Sunday, 24 March. Register now to help Communities at Work assist families in need.

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