Tasmania’s largest charity food distributor struggling to meet demand amid coronavirus


Tasmania’s largest charity food distributor says it will struggle to keep up with calls for help without vital federal funding.

As the coronavirus pandemic has gripped Tasmania, demand for emergency food services has skyrocketed.

But Devonport-based Loaves and Fishes will not receive a cent from a Federal Government rescue package for the sector.

Loaves and Fishes Tasmania collects surplus food from around the state and redistributes it to frontline agencies, who give it to those in need.

Chief executive Andrew Hillier said because it was a state-based group, the organisation would not get any of the $16 million allocated by the Federal Government to emergency food relief services during the crisis.

Andrew Hillier from Loaves and Fishes has called for Federal Government help.(ABC News: Erin Cooper)

“We’re very fortunate that the State Government has given plenty of support to Loaves and Fishes, but we really do need the Federal support, particularly because this pandemic and the impacts of it are likely to continue for quite some months,” Mr Hillier said.

“It’s important that organisations providing that service have access to those funds. Loaves and Fishes Tasmania currently provides around 70 per cent of emergency food relief in Tasmania, so it seems fair.”

In the month of April, Loaves and Fishes distributed 900 hampers, 120,000 kilograms of fresh food and 39,000 ready-made meals.

Mr Hillier said that was a 70 per cent increase on usual demand.

“It’s a huge benefit for those who have found themselves suddenly impacted and they’ve had to access services they’ve never needed before,” he said.

Food deliveries being sorted for Loaves and Fishes food relief.
Loaves and Fishes accounts for about 70 per cent of Tasmania’s emergency food relief.(Facebook: Loaves and Fishes Tasmania)

Unless the organisation can get some of the federal money, there are concerns people may miss out.

“Obviously when you’re in the business of collecting up food and redistributing it, that’s a costly exercise, and while we’ll still distribute as much as we can, we may to limited as to how much we can do,” Mr Hillier said.

Vital service for the west coast

That prospect is particularly worrying for Lynn York, the manager of Rosebery Community House on the state’s west coast.

Loaves and Fishes comes to the town once a week with enough food for 80 people, and it is the only group doing it for free.

“People here are so grateful someone’s actually coming in and helping them out, and they’d probably feel even more isolated without the help,” Ms York said.

“We’ve always struggled to get services here on the west coast, and now we’ve got one that comes every week, people are just amazed and grateful.

“Without them we wouldn’t have food relief like this.”

Ms York said the presence of Loaves and Fishes was needed now more than ever, as many people who worked in the tourism sector lost their jobs in the shutdown.

And with fresh fruit and vegetables often in short supply or unaffordable, the deliveries were important for population’s health.

Demand skyrockets across the sector

Loaves and Fishes is not the only charity affected, with organisations like Foodbank Tasmania and the Salvation Army also seeing more people asking for help.

Foodbank deputy chairman Rob Higgins said in the month of April, the organisation had almost met its usual quarterly quota.

“We did 91,000 kilograms of food which is roughly 164,000 meals,” he said.

Rob Higgins, deputy chair of Foodbank Tasmania.
Foodbank Tasmania’s Rob Higgins is grateful to receive some of the federal funding.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Mr Higgins said the company had sent out 1,000 hampers in the past fortnight, “which is quite a high volume considering we normally do about 7,000 for the year”.

Food being prepared for Loaves and Fishes food relief.
Loaves and Fishes has seen a huge spike in calls for help.(Facebook: Loaves and Fishes Tasmania)

Nationally, Foodbank received $9.6 million of the federal money, with two per cent of that flowing to the Tasmanian operation.

“That probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but it equates to $182,400, which we’re really grateful for,” Mr Higgins said.

The Salvation Army’s Brad Watson said while his organisation had not seen demand go through the roof like other charities, there had been a shift in who was seeking support.

“Demand hasn’t changed significantly because a lot of the underlying issues that pre-existed COVID are still there … but we’ve had a one third increase in brand new clients over March and April,” he said.

“We’re also seeing a massive increase in people coming to us that have no income at all.”

Funding not forthcoming

Tasmania’s Community Support Minister Jeremy Rockliff said he had written to the Commonwealth about Loaves and Fishes, asking for a review of its eligibility for federal funding.

“The Tasmanian Government is simply asking for a level playing field so that providers are not disadvantaged by having only a local presence and approach,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Federal Minister for Social Services Anne Ruston said the Federal Government “does not fund any state-based food relief providers as it is a matter for state and local governments”.

“We reject any suggestion that Tasmanians are missing out on vital food services during the coronavirus pandemic.”

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Visaya Hoffie was in a New York hospital recovering from a train accident when coronavirus hit



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