By Maya Pilbrow
11 March 2023
Cost-of-living increases affecting refugee and asylum seeker communities have spurred one Melbourne parish to expand their food collection and donation program.
St John’s Bentleigh has begun its second month as one of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s food security champions.
Food security champions are community groups who commit to collecting single high-demand food items to be donated to the ASRC foodbank.
St John’s collected canned tomatoes during February and will collect cooking oil throughout March.
The Reverend Santa Packianathan said many donations came from parishioners, but that some items had been given by community members unaffiliated with the parish.
He said the St John’s community was used to donating food and other supplies through an ongoing relationship with local neighbourhood centre Dixon House.
Mr Packianathan said there was initial concern over whether the parish could manage donations to Dixon House and ASRC.
“We decided we can do both, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
Parishioner Beatrice McDonald, who spearheaded St John’s involvement with the ASRC, said she first became aware of the food collection project following an email from ASRC chief executive and founder Kon Karapanagiotidis seeking community organisations to participate.
“[He] explained that the ASRC is responsible for feeding more than 1600 people each fortnight and in recent times it had become very difficult to keep the foodbank shelves filled,” she said.
Ms McDonald said she suggested to Mr Packianathan that St John’s could collect and provide essential items in high demand.
She said the project had been supported enthusiastically by parish leadership and by parishioners.
Ms McDonald said the food security program was an effective and practical way to make an impact on the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.
“It simply is a matter of adding a few items to parishioners’ weekly shops,” she said.
Ms McDonald and Mr Packianathan said they foresaw the project as sustainable long-term.
“We want to keep going as long as we can. There’s no set timeline as such, but as long as people are willing,” Mr Packianathan said.