Food relief agencies providing much-needed supplies to fire-affected communities will receive an additional $4 million from government to assist with recovery efforts, The New Daily can reveal.
The extra funding was approved by Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston, in recognition of the increased burden the fires have placed on these vital services.
The money will be given to Foodbank, OzHarvest and Second Bite, with each organisation expected to receive a letter formally detailing the funding this week.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Foodbank, SecondBite and OzHarvest for their collective commitment to making sure that Australians caught up in the bushfire crisis have been able to keep food on the table,” Senator Ruston told The New Daily.
“For so many Australians these organisations have provided the basics that have helped them get through the toughest days and weeks after their lives were thrown into chaos.”
‘Tricky economic situation’ facing relief networks
The extra government funding comes as food relief agencies battle with “unprecedented” demand, according to Foodbank chief executive Brianna Casey.
Ms Casey told The New Daily the drought and weakening economic conditions were placing additional burden on food banks’ supply chains.
At the same time, demand for food relief is increasing – even among those who have jobs and own their homes.
“We’re now looking at a very tricky economic situation where the combination of ongoing drought, bushfires, and now COVID-19 (coronavirus) is going to place the economy under incredible duress,” she said.
We are anticipating higher rates of demand for food relief because of the fact the economy is going to struggle.
"We are going to have more families in crisis, more families in need of assistance, and we need to ensure that this perfect storm does not adversely affect our ability to get food and groceries to them.”
Long-term recovery still a worry
To date, Australians have donated an impressive $2.3 million to Foodbank alone.
Although that's an impressively large sum, Ms Casey said more donations were needed to ensure the full recovery of affected communities.
The whole process is expected to take at least three years, she said.
That presents a particular challenge, as many of the corporate backers who supported the initial relief efforts spent their entire annual social responsibility budget within the first two weeks of 2020, Ms Casey said.
"Our concern now is what that's going to mean for the remaining 10 months of the year, recognising that we’re just going from one challenging situation to another," she said.
"We’ve progressed from the bushfire crisis phase and we are now entering the very lengthy and very complex recovery phase.
"We’re going to be dealing with communities that will be in crisis not just for the next few months, but for years to come."
Cash sometimes the best donation
Krystian Seibert, Swinburne University of Technology industry fellow and philanthropy expert, agreed.
Rebuilding is more like a marathon than a sprint,’’ he said.
"The public’s response has been remarkable, even unprecedented I would say.
"But as we stop seeing so much of the bushfires in the news and people turn their minds to other things, the volume of donations flowing will diminish."
That's why many charities that received donations at the height of the crisis did not spend all of those funds on immediate, direct relief efforts.
“Donors have to understand that these charities need time to use the funds they receive, but equally the need for donations doesn’t doesn’t go away just because we’re not seeing bushfires in the news any more," he said.
"The need for donations will very much still be there.”
Mr Seibert encouraged those who can continue to donate to do so, and recommended donating cash "unless you’ve been specifically asked to donate particular goods".
Foodbank's Ms Casey made similar remarks, advising would-be donors to check charities' websites to see which items they should donate.
"This isn’t about cleaning out your cupboard and donating the four-bean mix that has been sitting at the back of your cupboard for a few months," she said.
"Think about what you would need in your cupboard if you were in a crisis."