Community service

Bendigo community service providers say next year will be tough for struggling residents

Central Victoria’s food and cash services are asking for more funding to help meet the needs of those who are trying hard.

As many COVID-related financial hardship arrangements come to an end and the price of living has risen with gasoline spikes, spiraling electricity bills and flood-affected food prices, some Bendigo residents have turned to charities for help.

The community service group Bendigo Family and Financial Services offers financial advice, specialized programs and emergency food assistance.

Chief executive Jenny Elvey said demand on the basic service had fallen from 30 people a day to 50.

“It’s very consistent. It’s going up,” Ms. Elvey said.

“With the financial advice, we noticed [that in] the last two months we went back to a waiting list.

“We had kind of caught up with the pandemic, but now [some people are] in trouble.

Bendigo Family and Financial Services says demand for food aid is increasing in the area.

The community organization received $26,000 from the state government in the last round of food aid funding, which enabled them to feed their customers over Christmas.

“We were able to stay open over the Christmas and New Year period. We didn’t stop during the holidays.”

“In previous years we had to say, ‘we don’t have anything’. We can’t help you.”

Demand for relief grows as costs soar

A rise in gasoline prices as well as a disrupted food supply from interstate flooding did not help the pressure on local services.

“Every time you go to the supermarket, it costs more,” Ms Elvey said.

“If you live out of Bendigo…fuel [prices are] huge.”

Vegetables and fruits on a table
Eaglehawk Community House says their current food relief program is labor intensive and with more funding they would distribute vouchers. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Two community houses in the area, Kangaroo Flat and Eaglehawk, have both expanded their food assistance program over the past year.

Both received about $35,000 in food aid from the state government over the Christmas period to provide food stamps.

“We were supporting about 20 families a day,” Eaglehawk manager Tracey Moss said.

While Bendigo Family and Financial Services said struggling families could put off expenses like car maintenance during the pandemic, things have changed now that state movement restrictions have eased.

“Because it takes tires to get kids to school.

“There are also high electricity and gas costs.”

More funding means more help

Food aid agencies are exploring how they can operate more sustainably and help more people.

Ms Moss said food stamp funding would provide more personalized support for struggling families, while reducing waste and volunteer labor to pack them.

“If we could get that funding to buy vouchers and then retaliate a bit on our materialistic food aid program because it’s so labor intensive.”

Bendigo Family and Financial Services has applied for strong funding to hire two additional staff.

“We would like to see a little more money invested in the salaries of emergency relief personnel.”

“To be able to work with families, before they need a financial adviser…when their electricity and gas [bills] spiraled.”

Bendigo East MP Jacinta Allan said there had always been a need for food aid in the area.

“We recognize the need to continue to provide ongoing support and that is why there is the Food Aid Task Force.”

While Bendigo West MP Maree Edwards said the state government is always looking to support these organisations.

“We hope we come to the other side of this pandemic.”

“The food aid grants are underway, stage four has just been announced and Bendigo Foodshare has successfully received over $100,000.”