By Melissa Sheil
AS COVID-19 lockdowns expose the hardships of society’s most vulnerable, a team of dedicated staff and volunteers at the Foothills Information and Referral Service (FIRS) and Foodbank WA have banded together to ensure no one goes without a meal.
After two years of lobbying and negotiations, not-for-profit FIRS received approval to locate a mobile Foodbank van in the City of Kalamunda last month, catering for all those in suffering financial stress as a part of their emergency relief program.
FIRS works in conjunction with the mobile Foodbank by assessing eligibility, providing financial counselling, distributing food passes and providing referrals which are then used at the vans.
FIRS office manager and financial counsellor Sue Bateman said the need for the van came from FIRS finding themselves dealing with many clients in the area who could not access assistance due to a lack of transport.
“Clients who are most in need often come from complex social backgrounds, they may be elderly, frail or disabled,” she said.
“Many below the poverty line are unable to afford fuel, car repairs, registration or even a vehicle at all.
“There were whole demographics of vulnerable people slipping through the cracks.”
Mobile Foodbank vans have proved immensely successful throughout the State, with others in nearby Midland and Ellenbrook servicing dozens of people every week.
The work to supply the vans is shouldered by a larger network of charities and volunteers and operates alongside other services in the FIRS emergency relief program.
Ms Bateman said a whole range of people access such services and there is no shame in telling someone you need help.
“There are many community members in the City of Kalamunda who are doing it tough,” she said.
“They may have been impacted by the COVID-19 virus in recent years via lockdowns and restrictions, they may be immunocompromised, disabled, elderly, have lost a job or be under employed, a single parent, have lost family, be a couch-surfer or a carer.
“These are all valid reasons to be experiencing food poverty and the option to purchase super low-cost food safely with minimum crowding, adequate space and no judgement is very helpful.
“For what a small and basic gift it is, food can bring smiles to faces and the service helps as they know they are not alone in their plight – by sharing a problem, you halve it.”
Sherry a regular user of the mobile Foodbank since it opened last month, said the system was a godsend.
“I work hard to feed a family of five children, but it is very expensive as I can only work part-time and have two grandchildren in my custody as well,” she said.
“You have to stretch your money when you are low income and struggling so a $30 food pass goes such a long way.
“The volunteers were fantastic and they helped me organise what to buy to feed my family for the best value.”
Those wanting to utilise the mobile Foodbank can contact FIRS on 9359 1253 to receive a referral.