By Jeremy Rochow
Published: Thursday, May 14, 2020
Bushfire victims, people living in their cars, and those who have lost their jobs and can’t afford food, are among the South Australians Alan Biss helps while volunteering with Foodbank – the nation’s biggest food-relief organisation.
Many great chefs have said food can bring people together in a way nothing else can, and for Foodbank volunteer Alan, this couldn’t be more true.
Since he started volunteering at Foodbank – a place resembling a general store or small supermarket for people requiring emergency food relief – Alan has met people from all walks of life.
“There are so many stories out there, and volunteering at Foodbank makes you realise how grateful you should be for what you’ve got, because many of these people, through no fault of their own, have nothing,” he says.
Visiting Lobethal with Foodbank, Alan spoke to people who lost everything during last year’s bushfires. One man he met lost his entire property and had burns all over his arms and legs.
“(This man) said his dog was on fire, so he rushed down to put the flames out and was burnt.”
After the fire, the elderly gentleman visited Foodbank’s Mobile Food Hub in Lobethal each week.
“Over the weeks, he has been in a better frame of mind,” Alan says.
“The bandages were getting smaller, but he’s got compressions on still.
“He was showing me the other day the tattoos he had on his legs and arms, and said once the burns had healed, he’d get one to remind him of what he went through.”
That’s just 1 of dozens of people Alan has built a relationship with since he started volunteering at the Foodbank Food Hub about a year ago, packing shoppers’ bags.
Foodbank mobile hubs
When Foodbank SA launched a mobile version of this service in 2019 to offer food relief in regional South Australia and areas suffering from drought or natural disaster, Alan started driving the truck.
The truck’s like a supermarket on wheels and currently makes regular visits to the Barossa Valley and the fire-ravaged town of Lobethal, serving about 50 people a day.
Hungry South Australians
South Australians who access food relief every month.
The truck’s sides flip up to reveal groceries. Inside, it has a 2-door display fridge and freezer for dairy and meat products.
Shoppers then walk around the truck selecting their groceries. Fruit and vegetables are free to promote healthy eating, while other items are $2 per kilo. For bushfire victims, the entire service is free.
Alan says he loves the truck and finds helping people in the community rewarding. He’s seen first-hand how the mood in the Adelaide Hills has changed since the fires last December.
“When we first started visiting (Lobethal) the mood there was sombre,” he says.
You’d ask people and they’d gladly tell you what happened to them during the fires, and others – even grown men – would just start crying.
“They’re grateful though. You build up relationships with them over time and they start bringing you cakes they’ve baked or apples and pears from what they have left on their properties.”
Dealing with COVID-19
Foodbank relies heavily on volunteers like Alan to help at the 6 Food Hubs across SA, its warehouses and the Mobile Hubs. Unfortunately, Foodbank hasn’t escaped the COVID-19 crisis.
Almost two thirds of Foodbank SA’s 250 volunteers are older people who are more vulnerable to illnesses like coronavirus. Alan is one of the volunteers impacted.
“I’ve had to give up (volunteering) for the time being because my wife is asthmatic and I can’t put her at risk,” he says.
“I’m disappointed I can’t be there, but I’ll be back once this is all over and we’re given the all clear.
Before COVID-19 hit, Foodbank was supporting more than 126,000 South Australians with food relief every month.
This has grown since the COVID-19 outbreak, putting additional strain on already tight resources.
However, Foodbank SA Chief Executive Officer Greg Pattinson says the charity is always looking for creative ways to meet demand.
“I think implementing home deliveries is the next challenge,” he says. “There are a lot of people stuck at home or self-isolating who are calling us.”
While this might not come to fruition just yet, Foodbank is taking precautions, limiting the number of people visiting its food hubs, practicing social distancing, and quarantining its warehouses.
One thing Mr Pattinson can confirm though, is that Foodbank is always there to help in times of need.
“We want people to realise that the Australian food industry has enough food to go around,” he says.
“So if Australians aren’t silly and don’t hoard food, Foodbank will still be able to access the food it needs to meet the demand of those in need.”