If you have been lamenting the cold or the price of food then take a moment to remind yourself of all those people who are still struggling post floods to either get back into their homes, repair them or get a tradesperson to rewire the house so they can have more than one power point that works. For many people in Lismore and surrounding areas the community food kitchens and volunteers have been an essential lifeline to keep them going with food, a little warmth and a friendly face. Yet the lack of funding for these services is seeing them close and volunteers burn out.
Clare Kearney Animal Rescue Support org (ARC) lead for Northern Rivers says that there are thousands of displaced people with no source of free food and many families living in tents in freezing conditions.
‘In Lismore there have been five key sources of food relief since March, all provided for free: Koori Mail and Koori Mail Kitchen, 51 Wyrallah Road food bank, Lifeline donation centre, Trees Not Bombs cafe and Sophia’s home kitchen,’ she explained.
‘On 5 June Wyrallah Road closed without any notice, through no fault of the incredible volunteers who ran this lifeline for three months with no funding whatsoever.’
Lifeline donation centre and Trees Not Bombs cafe are also closing and it is understood that the Koori Mail Kitchen had to close due to lack of funding before it was provided with some funding to reopen.
‘I volunteered at the Trees Not Bombs cafe and they met a real need in our community for a safe comfortable place to gather and share food and conversation, but the volunteers are exhausted,’ Lismore Councillor Vanessa Ekins told The Echo.
Sophia’s Kitchen is a tiny home operation set up to support the thousands of people living in tents and stripped homes in the freezing cold in Lismore and is funded by donations to ARC an animal charity that took the project on to ensure people with pets could keep feeding themselves.
‘We worry about the wellbeing of the two women churning meals out in their kitchens, especially as we face other community-run services winding down, but there are already so many people depending on them so we will be here for as long as the community needs us,’ said Ms Kearney.
‘Sophia continues to pump out hundreds of meals a day from her home kitchen and that of her few helpers. She sends meals to the Gold Coast, Ballina and as far south as Woolgoolga. She already can’t keep up with demand, physically or financially.’
Government needs to step up
‘I reached out to Steph Cooks office (Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience, and Minister for Flood Recovery) to ask what food services they were providing. They responded with a list of all the voluntary services that are operating. They said they had done door-knocking in Lismore and provided 100 food hampers. So the government food relief has been limited to 100 hampers. Otherwise, they’re relying on unpaid, unfunded volunteers.
‘My understanding is that Oz Harvest requested funding in this budget and they were declined.
‘The state government finally starting to help with the grants, but people need to eat today. And they need to know they are going to be able to eat every day. $13m of funding over two years doesn’t put food in people’s stomachs today. At the very least the sate government need to be guarantee these community food hubs through winter and until the end of the year.’
Lismore Councillor Adam Guise told The Echo that ‘closing the free food hubs now is premature and will be a huge loss to the community. There is a need for some organisation to support long term recovery.’
‘We’ve got enough hand sanitiser and gloves in the region, what we need is targeted appropriate help. Resilient building materials, trades people to get work done.’
‘We urgently need ongoing food relief for people who have no homes, no money, no power and no kitchens,’ said Ms Kearney.
‘Existing operations have run wholly on community donations of food, money and time for over three months, but the need has not subsided. The appeal from ARC is for larger organisations and government to step in. We’re an animal rescue, we should be a bit player in this tragedy.’