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One in every 50 people in Orange used FoodCare in May - demand up 33% since February

June 23, 2023

Mission Australia's Codie Campbell after the community meeting. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

By Peter Holmes

If the Reserve Bank’s aim in repeatedly hiking interest rates since last May was to smash the people of Orange who can least afford it, then its members, led by governor Philip Lowe, should give themselves a pat on the back.

Maybe crack a bottle of champagne.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe is using the blunt instrument of higher cash rates to try and slow spending in Australia. Supplied.

At a public meeting in Glenroi last week attended by 40 to 50 people, the impact on the ground of rising rents and mortgage payments, utility prices and grocery bills was laid bare by FoodCare's Sue Clarke, who said demand was on the rise, particularly for people shopping on behalf of their family.

FoodCare - which receives no government support - is in March Street and provides non-perishable food, fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, bread, meat, eggs and other groceries, along with household items, to people on a low income or experiencing financial hardship.

A bus can transport shoppers, and it is a trust system - no proof of financial hardship or low income is required.

People must spend $8 on discounted or at-cost items to be eligible for free fruit, vegetables and bread.

Fruit and veg at FoodCare. Facebook.

In February 2023 about 600 people visited FoodCare, many on multiple occasions. In a city of 42,000, that equated to about one in every 70 residents shopping for themselves or their family.

In May that number had skyrocketed to 800 people, a jump of a third, and equivalent to about one in every 50 people.

“People are struggling to find the money to buy the basic essentials every week, and more people are looking for help,” Clarke said.

Volunteers at FoodCare. Facebook.

“Some people might only come for a little while [as] they get over a tough time, and some come on a regular basis.”

She said FoodCare was now opening on Fridays “to cope with the increase”.

Asked if they were running out of food, she said: “We find it harder to get consistent supplies, yes.”

The meeting, held on Tuesday at Marang Gunya Community Centre on Oxley Place, attracted some local residents, but the majority of attendees were from local service providers. There were social workers, youth workers, community liaison, counsellors, lawyers, volunteers and others, representing charities, job and housing providers, legal services and council.

They included Housing Plus and Headspace, and it was as much a rare opportunity for networking as it was a community forum.

The crowd at the community meeting spilled over into a second room. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

It was organised by Codie Campbell from Mission Australia, who is a pocket rocket in the community and dedicates her working life to giving battlers an even break.

One woman raised the issue of stolen cars and motorbikes flying around Glenroi streets and ovals, sometimes when small children were around.

"I was running a playgroup here yesterday," she said, "and we had a stolen car and motorbike doing doughnuts and what have you, just behind here."

A complaint was made that some burnt out cars were left for too long before being towed away, and that by the time police arrived to this and other calls for assistance, the offenders had generally made a getaway.

One youth worker said he had stopped calling police about stolen motorbikes after being told that what police needed was information on what house those on a bike had entered. "It's hard when you can't get see where they're going," he said.

Campbell said that when she held playgroups for children in Glenroi on Tuesday afternoons "and the motorbikes are flying around, it's actually pretty scary because the kids walk in a lot of the time [without] their parents".

There was also concern about anti-social behaviour in the overnight hours, and smashed glass on roadways.

"There's all these little kids running around and they could hurt themselves," said one attendee.

There was talk about how difficult it could be for people in parts of Glenroi to easily access staples such as milk, bread, fruit, vegetables and cereal. Many people didn’t drive, which left the 7-Eleven on Bathurst Road as the closest option.

"People deserve access to fresh fruit and milk and a lot of people in this community don't have access to transport," said Campbell. "And not too expensive, either."

One suggestion was that an approach be made to the owner of a local pie shop to see if they would be interested in stocking reasonably priced milk and bread.

FoodCare's Clarke said the organisation used to be based in Glenroi, but moved to March Street to cater to a greater part of the city.

Information for those who might like to volunteer at FoodCare.

“In an ideal world I would say yes [to a service in Glenroi] but it takes a bloody lot of work to maintain it, and that's the hard part.”

FoodCare is setting up its own community garden within the Environmental Learning Facility (ELF) plot in the north eastern corner of the Orange Showground.

The group is made up of volunteers who enjoy gardening socially, and visitors are welcome to drop in and have a look around at any time.

It's also encouraging locals to “plant a few extra” when they’re growing vegetables such as peas, beans, broccoli or potatoes in the backyard, and donate the surplus.

“We’ve done it once before - it’s worked really well," Clarke said. "A few people we spoke to said, ‘We didn’t think it was enough’, so that’s why we’ve come up with the slogan ‘No Amount Is Too Small’.”

FoodCare is also starting cooking classes in conjunction with local chefs. It will focus on using everyday supermarket items to make basic meals.

Clarke said that former Masterchef winner Kate Bracks had written easy recipes for FoodCare.

Masterchef winner Kate Bracks hosting a cooking demonstration in Glenroi in 2015. Facebook.

FoodCare's Alex Ruse told The Orange News Examiner that the group had about 70 volunteers who work in the shop, plus others who drive the bus (funded by Live Better) and coordinate supplies. There is a waiting list for volunteers.

She said that whereas once most people who used FoodCare were also receiving Centrelink benefits, recent times had seen an increase in workers, including tradespeople whose work has slowed, and university students battling to put food on the table.

In coming months hundreds of thousands of fixed-rate mortgages written in 2020-22 will revert to a variable rate.

The Australian Financial Review said in a report in April that "households servicing a $550,000 mortgage – the average size of a loan issued between 2020 and 2022 – will suffer an $891 increase in monthly repayments".

It's known as the mortgage cliff, and Ruse predicts many people who fall off it will be needing FoodCare between now and the end of the year.

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