By Emma Harrington
Published: Thursday, July 23, 2020
There’s no doubt 2020 has been a tough year for South Australians, especially our regional communities who’ve grappled with bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic.
More people than ever have found themselves in need of extra support, facing the loss of their homes and jobs.
But they don’t have to face these challenging times alone thanks to charities like Foodbank SA – South Australia’s largest food relief organisation. With 6 Food Hubs across the state and a Mobile Food Hub servicing metropolitan areas, the charity supports more than 126,000 people every month.
Despite its enormous contribution, the organisation noticed a gap in providing easily accessible services for regional communities, says Foodbank SA CEO Greg Pattinson.
“People living in regional areas are 33% more likely to be food insecure than those living in metro SA,” he says.
“We needed to find a way to get food to people in country towns who are struggling, without them having to drive a long way to get help.”
That’s where the idea for a dedicated regional Mobile Food Hub was born. This week it hit the road, beginning its tour of the state in the Riverland.
The RAA Foodbank Mobile Food Hub is a grocery store on wheels that provides free and discounted food to families and individuals in need. Customers are referred to the hub by local charities, school and community groups.
The custom-built truck is fitted out with shelving, fridges and storage spaces, and carries 2 tonnes of stock. Bread, fruit and vegetables are free, and charities also provide customers with vouchers so they can purchase a range of other heavily discounted food items.
On the first leg of its journey, the Mobile Food Hub is visiting 5 towns in the Riverland – Barmera, Loxton, Renmark, Berri and Waikerie – where the need for food relief is high.
“We already supply about 500,000 meals throughout the region each year but there is a shortfall of more than 130,000 meals to meet demand, so we hope the new Mobile Food Hub will go a long way to cover this gap,” Mr Pattinson says.
It’s a move that’s been welcomed by the Riverland community, especially social service agencies on the frontline.
Josie Spriggs, from St Vincent De Paul in Barmera, says the organisation has seen an increase in demand for food relief over the past 12 months.
“The biggest challenge for members of the community is the access to funds. By the time they have paid their other bills, utilities [and] car expenses, there is nothing left,” she says.
“This [the Mobile Food Hub] has the potential to be a really big asset for the Riverland community.”
The new service not only allows individuals and families to access the food they need, but it also helps to improve people’s mental health, Ms Spriggs explains.
“In the past, we would provide a hamper where those in need are getting what we give them [but] now they have a choice, providing dignity… and more independence about the food they need for themselves and their families.
“I saw first-hand the difference [the Mobile Food Hub] makes [and] how those in need accessed food – they were so pleased and grateful.”
It’s an observation shared by RAA Foodbank Mobile Coordinator Evelyn Mittiga, who is the friendly face behind the wheel of the truck.
“The reception has been wonderful, from the clients, agencies, volunteers and the town councils that have been accommodating us,” she says.
Food for thought
The number of meals Foodbank provides in the Riverland each year.
“The community spirit is very strong and it’s most rewarding to feel part of this program.”
RAA has supported Foodbank to buy, custom-fit and stock the Food Hub, which carries groceries sourced from Foodbank’s warehouse or donations from (largely local) retailers, farmers and the food industry.
RAA Acting General Manager Government & Public Policy Sally Warner says the organisation is proud to partner with Foodbank to help deliver the much-needed initiative.
“This service will help people and families in need of food relief, who currently have little or no access to welfare services,’’ she says.
“RAA has served the community since 1903 and this is an extension of our commitment to helping South Australians dealing with adversity.”
The RAA Foodbank Mobile Food Hub will travel through the state’s regions, including Clare, Kadina and Port Lincoln, over the next 2 years.