Echuca-Moama families struggle to find next meal with food insecurity on the rise

By Charmayne Allison

WHILE many Echuca-Moama families are ticking off the Christmas list, our most vulnerable are desperately searching for the next meal.

Parents are cutting down their eating or even skipping meals entirely if it means their children will get a real Christmas.

And the number of locals going hungry is only on the rise, according to our swamped charities and welfare agencies.

As many as 90 people are pouring into Echuca Community Church Foodbank Relief Centre each day seeking help.

A stark increase on the 40 a week the centre received when it first opened in the depths of drought in 2006.

“It’s only getting worse,” founder Pauline Aitken said.

Long-term unemployment and homelessness were listed among the greatest culprits for the food insecurity crisis in the twin towns.

“There are more homeless people now than there has ever been. People say they have nowhere to go and they are now living by the river,” Pauline said.

“A lot of people are out of work and most can’t get jobs because there are cutbacks happening everywhere.”

Echuca-Moama Salvation Army auxiliary Lieutenant Sonia Edwards said domestic violence and bill shock were also major contributors to food insecurity.

“The bill stress is just astronomical at the moment,” she said.

“We have people coming in with $3000 bills for electricity and gas. We’d like to be able to just pay these bills but unfortunately we can’t.

“Domestic violence is also increasing.

“We did a quick survey last year and found 39 per cent of people coming here for assistance put domestic violence down as the reason for coming in, which often leads to homelessness.

“Of that 39 per cent, 11 per cent were males. People often don’t realise males can also be on the receiving end of domestic violence.

“Tragically, people often stay with violent partners because otherwise they’d be on the street.”

The Salvation Army has been madly raising money so they can continue to offer $30 food vouchers to the growing number of locals pouring through the front doors.

Last year the local corps donated more than $40,000 in vouchers alone, and this year has seen at least a 20 per cent increase in clients.

“Someone came in the other day who has never been in before. We gave him assistance with a bill and a $30 food voucher,” Sonia said.

“You’d think we’d given him $1 million. But when you’re struggling, every little bit helps.”

Pauline said many who came into Foodbank were often at breaking point.

“Some people are very emotional. Parents come in worried about how they’re going to continue to feed their children,” she said.

“One chap came in this morning who just wanted to talk. Sometimes when you are struggling for everything else, a listening ear is all you want.”

Both Pauline and Sonia said the generous support of locals kept them going.

“We have had more food dropped off this year than ever and Foodshare has been very good to us,” Pauline said.

“Without the support of the community, we couldn’t do any of this.”

People can make donations of food, clothes and household goods to Echuca Community Church Foodbank Relief Centre at 123 Campaspe Esplanade, Echuca.

Donations for the local Salvation Army can be made at the Salvo’s op shop.