Did you know that at least 13.9% of Australians are living below the internationally accepted poverty line?
Nor did I realise that, on any given night, 1 in 200 people in Australia are homeless and over two million people are dependent on food donations in order to survive.
That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of people with little or no food and very little hope.
Various relief agencies try to plug the gaps and provide help where they can. But, in order to do this, they need help from government, corporate sponsors – and from the community.
Providing some food for people in need is something practical and tangible that one can do to help. So this December I signed on to take part in a ‘reverse advent’ activity. It works on the simple premise of counting down to Xmas by giving rather than receiving. Participants set aside a box and then add a non-perishable food item to the box every day up to and including Xmas Eve.
Individuals or groups involved in the food drive were encouraged to source a local charitable organisation (homeless shelter, women’s refuge, etc.) that would be willing to receive their food donations. We would then each individually trot off and deliver the (filled) box to our chosen charity on Xmas Eve.
A brief hunt around on the Internet and a few phone calls made me realise that this wasn’t really a practical option. It turns out that most organisations need the food at least a week before Xmas. This allows time for sorting, assembling the care packages or hampers and getting them to those in need.
I acknowledge that there are those who believe that donating money to charities is more worthwhile than donating food – and I encourage those who wish to make donations to do so. However, I have some personal reservations about the overheads that many such organisations have in terms of premises, staffing and advertising. In some instances not much of my paltry donation actually appears to get to the people that I’m concerned about.
But a tin of soup (or whatever) is a tangible item, a consumable that I think someone will be able to put to good use – perhaps to feed one meal to one of those million hungry children in Australia. It also speaks directly to the notion that food is a central concern for all humans – but that not everyone gets to eat every day.
Given all of this, I decided that what I needed was to find was a ‘gatekeeper’ – an organisation that acts as a central repository for food donations. Food Bank WA fits the bill perfectly. It’s a not-for-profit, non-denominational organisation that facilitates food distribution to the needy. It has relatively few staff members, but a very large cohort of volunteers – which adds to my general feel-good vibe.
This week DaughterDearest and I took a drive out to the Food Bank to drop off our filled boxes – and it felt good to be part of a solution, however small a part it might be.
We were invited to have a look at the facility and I was amazed to find just how comprehensive a service it is. Food Bank not only receives food, often saving pallets of tinned food from going to landfill (!), and acts as a clearing house by supplying numerous charities with food packages for those in need – it also has a commercial kitchen.
This is where some of the volunteers process and cook excess fresh produce that’s donated by businesses. For example, tomatoes are turned into pasta sauce. The freshly cooked food is then snap frozen and organisations are notified that ready-to-eat meals are available for pick up. How good is that?
We came away feeling inspired. Indeed, sufficiently so that I’ve decided to run quarterly food drives next year.
So, for anyone who’s interested, all you’d need to do is buy one extra item each time you shop. Then drop it off in the donations crate at my place next time you visit – or let me know and I’ll swing past to pick things up. Your contributions can remain anonymous if you prefer, or I’ll acknowledge them when I make the deliveries.
If a few people join in and donate an item each month (or week) and to the collection, we should have a good-sized box to drop off Food Bank by the end of March 2016.
Just think about it. Warm and fuzzy feelings will abound,