8 December 2023

The price of charity is going up as foodbanks struggle to stock shelves

The foodbank at St Luke’s Cockatoo is still managing to feed 60 families each week as food costs rise. Picture: St Luke’s Cockatoo

Maya Pilbrow

30 August 2023

Volunteer-run food relief programs are finding it harder to stock costly items as grocery prices rise.

Parish-supported foodbanks have seen demand for food relief grow, but inflation means donated dollars don’t buy as much as they used to.

It means items such as meat are off the menu, while they have been forced to set one-item limits on milk.

Many churches across Melbourne running food relief ministries do so in partnership with Foodbank Victoria.

Parishes place orders with Foodbank Victoria for low-cost pantry and fresh produce items, then collect and distribute them to those in need.

The problem is that while the number of people in need of food relief goes up, the amount of food each parish can get to distribute is diminishing.

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All Saints Preston holds a weekly food distribution service as well as a weekly lunch for community members in need of a hot meal.

Every Friday, clients can select the items they most require from a supermarket-like setup. Every Saturday, volunteers organise lunch for between 35 and 40 people, using ingredients largely from Foodbank Victoria.

Vicar the Venerable Michael Hopkins said sourcing food to be distributed had become harder after Foodbank Victoria imposed quantity limits on certain items.

Foodbank Victoria chief communications officer Matt Tilley said in a statement that limits on items sometimes had to be imposed for food to be distributed as fairly as possible.

“It is far better for everybody to get something than for a few people to get lots,” he said.

Mr Tilley said supply chain shortages affected food relief organisations as well as supermarkets.

Archdeacon Hopkins said his parish had been forced to set one-per-customer limits on staples like milk. Meanwhile, pricier produce like meat had become nearly impossible to find, with the parish falling back on buying ingredients for community lunches from the local supermarket when no other sources delivered.

At supermarket prices rather than Foodbank Victoria’s wholesale costs, money doesn’t go very far.

Julia and David Graham order $300 worth of groceries from Foodbank Victoria each week to help feed the 60 families who are regular clients of their St Luke’s Cockatoo parish-affiliated food store.

Mrs Graham said the food store was able to continue running due to generous individual donors.

But as meat and cheese have become harder to get from Foodbank Victoria, they have been forced to spend up to $200 extra per week purchasing these products from supermarkets. 

“If we can see by the end of the week with our collections that we still don’t have enough meat, then we will have to go out and just buy that from the supermarket,” she said. “And the cost of everything in the supermarket has gone up.”

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At the Anglican Parish of St Matthew’s Glenroy with St Linus’ Merlynston, vicar the Reverend Rob Koren said monthly expenditure to stock the parish’s foodbank had increased by $100 per month.

Mr Koren said part of this was due to limits on items for Foodbank Victoria orders.

“Baked beans, you used to be able to get as much as you want, now it’s like five packets of 24,” he said.

Mr Koren said this was a logistical challenge, with food orders needing to be placed at specific times to avoid any high-demand items running out during distribution.

With 20 food parcels distributed each fortnight, Mr Koren said the St Matthew’s and St Linus’ foodbank was at capacity.

These days, this isn’t uncommon. The foodbank at Epiphany Anglican in Tarneit has seen a 35 per cent increase in demand for food relief services since the start of the year according to authorised lay minister Kezha Angami.

Dr Angami said the foodbank was trying its best to meet the demand, but more donations were needed.

“A lot of items we don’t get as much as we require,” he said.

Dr Angami said foodbank clients sometimes had to choose between fresh produce or grains and legumes.

“It’s getting tougher as demand for food bank services increases,” he said.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, inflation on food items was 7.5 per cent higher in the June quarter of 2023 over the previous year.

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