11 September 2018

The Murwillumbah community pantry is set for a return, providing much appreciated relief to local resident. We had a chat with Amanda Lindh, of the Murwillumbah Community Centre, about the pantry, which was forced to close following damage during the 2015 floods.

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“The Community Food Hub was first established 2015, in response to massive funding changes to emergency relief provision. Local services saw their funding cut emergency relief services, funding went elsewhere and people were having to travel 25 minutes away to get assistance. As a local response, we started the Community Food Hub as a community pantry.”

The service seems to have fulfilled a big need in the community, as it became an instant success.

“Within 18 months the pantry had grown to around 650 members, with 70-80 shopping weekly. This included single parents, young people and a lot of elderly people. By saving money on food, they were better able to meet their housing costs, energy bills and the like.”

The service relies on Foodbank (LINK: https://www.foodbanknsw.org.au/), an organisation that receives donations from supermarkets and primary producers. Food nearing it’s use-by-date, or with marked packaging, is donated and then forwarded to not-for-profit services. The Murwillumbah community pantry then on-sells food at a low cost, allowing the employment of a co-ordinator, but the service really relies on volunteers.

“Volunteers do everything from ordering, stocktake, stacking shelves and taking people through the pantry, but more importantly talking to people. There’s a lot of disadvantaged people using the pantry. We train all the volunteers in what services are available, so the pantry can look after people for all of their needs. A lot of the volunteers have also been clients at various times, so it’s great to really be part of the community.  

The 2017 floods through Murwillumbah were a big challenge to the service. The pantry, and other Murwillumbah Community Centre services, were completely flooded out and destroyed. But, with the support of the community, Amanda says that the pantry is getting ready to come back stronger than ever.

“We’ve got an agreement with the Red Cross so the new pantry can move into one of their buildings. It’ll be an expanded service, in a newly renovated building, including cooking classes for healthy food on a budget, and working with local food producers to have their food in the pantry to promote and try to strengthen the industry and jobs in the local area.

“We got a grant from the Northern Rivers Community Foundation to put a new kitchen in, and further funding from Clubs grants to help the building. Local businesses have been supportive, for example the Stone and Wood Brewery (based in Byron Bay and Murwillumbah) have allowed their staff to take paid time to come and do some of the renovation work. The support from the community has been amazing.”

Amanda has identified housing affordability as one of the reasons people in Murwillumbah are seeking help.

“Rents are really high. A lot of our elderly clients may have been in a house for 20-30 years, have been fortunate to have cheap rent, the owner passes away and after the family takes over the house and sell it. There’s not much availability of rentals around Murwillumbah, and what is available is expensive and not affordable.

“To deal with the cost of living people are not using heating in winter, or turning their hot water off over summer. This affects their health. I’ve got one elderly female client who fills a bucket up and puts it in her sink, that’s what she uses to wash her dishes for the week because she’s scared to use water. It’s too expensive for her budget.

“It’s really sad. People seem ok with it because it’s become normal for them, but it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t be normal. But that’s how too many of our older community members are living.

“For these people, the community pantry has become the most requested service. A lot of older people, but also others, keep asking us when the pantry will reopen. Where excited to be able to provide that service again.”

Murwillumbah Community Centre provides many services to the local community and surrounding areas. This includes Indigenous focused services, financial counselling, emergency relief to help with bills. There are about 30 different services who use the Community Centre, including Youth and Family services and the social inclusion centre which provides free meals and connection for people who are homeless, or isolated and lonely. A lot of the pantry volunteers also come through this service.

The Fix Pension Poverty campaign is a partnership between The Benevolent Society and National Seniors, working to address the poverty being experienced by too many people on the Age Pension. We are calling on the Australian Government to:

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