Towards the end of 2020 our Food Pantry Manager, Damien Moore, reckoned he’d been working so hard the time had come to drag him away “in a straitjacket singing that Donna Summer song, ‘Enough is Enough (I can’t go on no more!)’. I mean, it has been a pretty full-on year.”
The words ‘full on’ go some way towards describing 2020: beginning with the bushfires and suffocating smoke, before the arrival of Covid-19. Ironically, the intensity of the year was made most apparent to us at Addi Road through the success of our food justice work.
Fall into a conversation with Damien Moore and you will soon be blitzed with tonnages of food rescued, details of donors and community partners, a mini-thesis on the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ labels, recommended temperatures for storing meat, and a pretty obsessive attitude to wearing masks and safe food-handling.
Along the line there’ll be a bunch more stats and KPIs (key performance indicators) thrown in. Once the information spray settles into a narrative, though, you realise Damien is just trying to explain how busy Addison Road Community Organisation has become – and how much we are really achieving.
Between our Food Relief Hub and two Food Pantries, Damien estimates that Addi Road fed nearly 250,000 people last year. We also saved over 220 tonnes of perfectly good food from going to landfill, equivalent to over 400 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
In case those numbers are hard to grasp, perhaps its simpler to say this is a huge effort from a local community centre like ours, positioning us as one of the fastest growing food rescue and food security providers in NSW.
The numbers, though, only tell a part. It’s the stories that really open up how vital the work has been – and how inspiring.
There was something “truly amazing”, Damien reckons, about the way companies, local businesses and everyday people chipped i, whether it was Heinemann Tax & Duty Free with a phenomenal donation: $150,0000 worth of chocolates in the lead-up to Christmas; or groups of enthusiastic school children who ran ‘food drives’ to help us feed people in need.
“It’s actually hard to remember that 2020 did not start in March with Covid-19, with how it affected everything,” Damien says. “The aftermath of the bushfires earlier is still being felt. We’d gone from feeding about 800 customers a week in the Inner West to nearly 2,000 people on a regular basis before Covid-19 happened. It was already obvious there were big problems going on with so much casualisation of people’s work; with low pay and job insecurity; with the high rents and lack of public housing; with unemployment and the rate of benefits that people could not survive on … things were not good. Covid-19 just exposed all those problems because it intensified everything.”
When unemployment shot up overnight, many more people were introduced to living below the poverty line. Thanks to the temporary increase in JobSeeker and introduction of JobKeeper, there was a softer landing than before, but only for a while. Things are still very uncertain out there. Nothing has been ‘fixed’– just postponed. You only have to look at the United States to see how bad it can get if you don’t address social justice along with health issues.
The slogan of the year was “we are all in this together”. But the truth was some people were in it much deeper. And still are.
Addison Road Community Organisation began to rethink our operations as early as February as the looming health and social crisis became apparent. As Damien notes, we’d already seen the need for food climbing as people battled to pay rent and admitted to skipping meals to “make ends meet”. The early warning signs around Covid-19 indicated food security was going to become a major issue, particularly for the unemployed and underemployed.
The first step was to expand our food justice work at the Addi Road Food Pantry Marrickville by transforming our community events venue, Gumbramorra Hall, into a Food Relief Hub.
The Hub became a focal point for putting together some 16,500 emergency food hampers across the year. These were supplied to 160 charity and civil society groups working hard to answer the specific needs and locations of their communities.
Trust and experience were a big part of how effective this food supply chain became, as we provided hampers to groups targeting everyone from survivors of childhood sex abuse to senior citizens, the homeless, youth at risk, Indigenous communities, single-parent families and all kinds of people who found themselves broke, anxious or hungry. The need was so great we were even contacted by groups from across the state and down the coast.
Many of these grassroots organisations and collectives are powered by one or two remarkable individuals who understood exactly what their communities needed and how to reach them quickly. Food, by its often-perishable nature, requires those kinds of fast, effective and culturally appropriate responses. Agility, intimacy of operation, experience in the field – these are hard-won assets built up over time, easily lost and hard to reproduce.
Typically, government funding tends to work top-down, with huge sums going to a few large organisations while many smaller groups miss out. The food relief crisis prompted by Covid-19 was addressed in much the same way. Fortunately, Addi Road was positioned between larger food relief agencies and the numerous small to mid-size service and social justice groups that needed help and needed it immediately.
We’d also been rescuing food rescue and fighting hunger for six years through the Addi Road Food Pantry Marrickville. This meant we already had experienced staff and a loyal network of volunteers; strong relationships with food businesses; refrigeration units, vans and storage; food handling experience and safety practices that became twice as important with Covid-19.
We were already doing it; the moment demanded we do it bigger and better, even if we weren’t being funded to.
Our relationship with Craig Foster and his #PlayForLives campaign was critical to rapidly expanding our operations. Thanks to #PlayForLives, Craig was able to provide a huge boost to our volunteer numbers, including friends like actor Bryan Brown and Sydney Swans players Kieren Jack and Nick Smith, as well as countless community sports club members looking to help out as Covid-19 shut down their playing year. His experiences with Addi Road helped Craig form a model for volunteering that could be replicated across the country, and indeed internationally. Craig’s relationship with us was so integral he became an Ambassador for Addison Road Community Organisation and helped bring media attention to the plights of those in need.
As the Addi Road Food Relief Hub got busier, we made plans to open the Addi Road Food Pantry Camperdown on the 1st of September 2020. Meanwhile, we also expanded the hours and service of our original food pantry, the Addi Road Food Pantry Marrickville.
“When we started in 2020, we had 32 volunteers; when things were at their peak we had 196 active volunteers here in a week,” Damien says. “There were something like 500 volunteers in all, over the year, many of them rock solid and with us the whole time or whenever we needed them.”
Volunteer numbers also spiked when we launched our Hampers of Hope for Christmas. Originally a small project created by Craig and Lara Foster, it was rebooted in partnership with Addi Road, to create 1,000 gift hampers in time for Christmas. Along with essentials like cooking oil and rice, we added in treats like, chocolates, moisturiser or soap, even a frisbee. Items that might make the time of year feel special, or at least a little more ‘normal’ for people under the pump and isolated by their struggles. It was the ultimate success story for us in a huge year.
“People came through with lots of acts of compassion,” Damien says. “It’s something that really ennobled us as an organisation. The donors who gave so much; people from the community bringing food to us; the volunteers who gave their time and worked so hard to help us … just the way everybody came together. It all made a difference.”
You can donate to Addi Road’s food rescue and food security programs here.
We want to say a special thank you to our newest suppliers and donors – as well as those who have supported us so solidly over the year and continue to do so today. There are many more whose details who don’t have, including numerous community figures who have come in personally to donate. But we do great appreciate the effort and generosity of those below in making our food rescue and food justice programs so successful throughout 2020 and on into this year ….
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