What springs to mind when you think about Margaret River…
Beach-houses? Quirky cafes? Hunger?
According to Lydell Huntly, Centre Manager at the Margaret River Community Resource Centre (CRC) there’s a side of Margaret River most tourists never see.
“In a town like this, it’s easy to see the wealth, it’s easy to see the polished presentation of a tourist destination and assume that it doesn’t have a portion of the community that really struggles to access affordable food.”
It’s difficult to gauge the extent of the crisis, but the CRC’s twice weekly soup kitchen provides a shocking insight.
“We serve on average 171 meals per night. That’s people who are coming for a healthy feed a couple of times a week”
With the support of Foodbank Bunbury, the CRC also hands out 10 to 20 food hampers a month. It wasn’t cost effective to have staff drive to the Bunbury branch, so until recently they’d been sourcing locally. We were able to get them the extra help they needed, sending the truck south with a bulk order of hampers.
“We’ve got a great arrangement with one of our local supermarkets, but this is good in terms of staff hours and it’s actually a very cost-effective way for us to purchase the basic goods. We do try to supplement it, because it is what it is, it’s the basics and we add to that with the fresh stuff.”
The hampers are just one part of the emergency relief the centre offers to those in crisis.
“We recently had a young man in who is a full-time carer for his father. Together they are wearing out the highway getting his dad to medical appointments. The income from a carers pension and an aged pension are simply not enough to cover the costs of increased local rents and the transport costs of regular medical appointments in Busselton. The Foodbank WA boxes provide food staples and the emergency relief food vouchers allow this young man to purchase fresh food items such as fruit and vegetables, meat and other items.”
While the need for food relief isn’t new to Margaret River, people’s ability to make ends meet has been impacted by increased rental costs through a shortage of housing stock. The pandemic has led to a big increase in Western Australians holidaying at home, more people working from home and many people returning home from overseas. Lydell reports seeing an increasing number of singles living 5 or 6 people to a house in order to make ends meet.
“When 60 to 70 percent of your fortnightly income is going on your rent – once you’ve covered all your other costs and driven to work, it doesn’t leave a lot for food.”
Pensioners and those living primarily on income support from Centrelink are often unable to cover unexpected bills. Lydell said there are a number of people who seek help from the centre three or four times a year for emergency relief, “when registration comes in, or the car needs repairs – those sporadic larger bills – the person’s ability to meet their living costs is knocked for six.”
“We recently provided Foodbank WA boxes to a young single mother who despite working part time and receiving parenting payments through Centrelink, is not able to earn enough to save for unexpected bills. Rising rental costs and managing sole parent responsibilities while working means she is struggling financially.”
“When the Covid supplements kicked in, many were actually on a better income than they had been for years. We didn’t see our regular clientele as much because most of them had almost double their normal income.”
It was a short reprieve; when the supplements ended in March, many again found themselves struggling to make ends meet.
Lydell believes Foodbank WA’s increased mobility into regional areas is “a game changer for us.”
“It minimises the amount of our staff time that has to be used in going and stocking our own food supplies because it comes ready prepared through Foodbank WA. There’s a whole range of things we do – emergency referrals, running shower and laundry facilities for people who are homeless and so on. If we can be at the front desk helping people in whatever way they need, that’s a win for us.”