Food insecurity among Aboriginal communities in the central west has been identified as a serious problem and charity Foodbank will hire a new staff member to coordinate food packages for those in need.
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Foodbank has secured $137,000 in funding from the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation, which will go towards the Central West Community Food Relief Program, to host a one-year pilot project that will hire, train and provide a vehicle for a community food relief coordinator.
The person, to be based in Dubbo, will support sustainable food accessibility for those in the community who do not have food security.
Adam Loftus, Food Programs Manager at Foodbank NSW & ACT, said the funding came following a partnership during COVID-19 with Aboriginal Affairs NSW to provide fresh produce to regional and remote communities.
"We found from that, we were getting a lot of feedback that something more permanent was needed, and [though] it was a good response during COVID, the communities would need something more sustainable," Mr Loftus told the Daily Liberal.
Foodbank is Australia's biggest hunger relief charity, and works with frontline organisations to distribute surplus food and groceries to those in need.
Mr Loftus said Dubbo was "a big dump point" for food to go out to smaller communities.
"There are a lot of residents coming into Dubbo for government supports and medical appointments. We are going to try to support local organisations in the small communities but also Dubbo itself."
The person to be hired will identify as First Nations, and will visit First Nations communities and develop relationships, in a bid to set-up new Foodbank food programs.
A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs said the government agency assumed a temporary but "much-needed role" in partnership with NSW Aboriginal Land Council and Foodbank to "reach into Aboriginal communities who were experiencing the highest levels of food insecurity".
"The pandemic brought this issue into the spotlight for the people of NSW, and now it has been identified, it cannot be ignored," the spokesperson told the Liberal.
Before Foodbank and Aboriginal Affairs worked together in 2020-2021, Foodbank provided the equivalent of 21,000 meals to nine Aboriginal organisations. In 2021, with the help of Aboriginal Affairs, that grew to the equivalent of over 600,000 meals.
At the peak need in 2021, in a given week, Foodbank delivered 335 food relief deliveries to Aboriginal communities in NSW (not including home deliveries); 2873 emergency hampers delivered to residential addresses; 750 ten-kilogram fresh produce boxes distributed; and 13 tonnes of fresh produce and pantry staples given away at the Gunnedah pop-up.
"The reach Foodbank had into Aboriginal communities increased substantially as a result of the partnership with Aboriginal Affairs NSW," the spokesperson said.
This showed Aboriginal communities were not being serviced to meet the needs prior to the pandemic, and the need for support - and to move away from insecurity - was substantially higher than any of the previous Aboriginal Affairs estimates.
They identified that food relief helped people for a day, but more attention was needed to address the causal issues.
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"That requires a long term, multi-prong, staged approach - and brings all stakeholders together to work on the issue holistically."
They said trust and consistency of where food help could be sourced was particularly important to create thriving communities, as "not all community services that are available Aboriginal people are culturally safe to access".
"Aboriginal Affairs NSW is currently working with a large array of groups to support positive change towards achieving food equity," they said.
Foodbank currently works with Dubbo Neighbourhood Centre, and ADRA Community Food Pantry Dubbo, among other local organisations.
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