“Your child eats first” – is there any parenting instinct more basic than this one?
It’s not something most give a thought to in their day-to-day, but for Megan and other single parents in our Mobile Foodbank queues, securing your child’s next meal is a constant source of stress.
When Mobile Foodbank first came to Willagee 3 years ago, Megan and her daughter, now 13, had been at rock bottom for quite some time. The story of how they got there is all too familiar. In her 20’s Megan considered herself a successful young adult. She worked as a salesperson for a large international phone safety company, had travelled overseas and was settling down with a partner and beautiful baby daughter.
THERE WERE TIMES WHEN MY DAUGHTER WAS VERY YOUNG, WHERE I’D JUST EAT HER SCRAPS. I’M VERY GOOD WITH MY MONEY SO WE’VE NEVER BEEN WITHOUT, BUT IT WOULD JUST BE VERY BASIC FOOD, BEANS ON TOAST AND THINGS LIKE THAT.
Megan’s hopes for domestic bliss were soon displaced by the daily struggle of dealing with the violence of her partner. They moved homes many times, leaving a trail of broken rentals. Megan was left broken too – by the time she got out of the relationship Megan’s mental health was “just horrible”.
Putting yourself first isn’t what parents do, and Megan’s most urgent need was to make sure her daughter had food. While there were youth services available, Megan found there weren’t many options for the over thirties.
“There was a lot of driving around. Trying to find handouts is embarrassing, it’s kind of soul destroying,” said Megan. “There was nothing readily available. I was being told, ‘you’re too old’, ‘you should have your act together by now’, ‘you should be able to provide for your child.’ It wasn’t like she was going without. Sometimes the school would provide breakfast for her, but I would make sure she was there for that.”
“We would sometimes go to the free meals at the churches, but when my daughter was young I had a lot of social anxiety. If you go to these places they want to talk to you. There are times you just need someone to look at you with compassion and go ‘here have a feed’, you know? You don’t want someone to say ‘how’s your life got to this point?’”
“I became really low in iron at one time, because I wasn’t eating very much and I was very thin. I kind of wish I was a bit thinner now. You can tell Foodbank has been feeding me up!”
When Foodbank WA provides food to a client, it takes away their most urgent need. With kids fed and food in the pantry, they’re able to focus attention on other areas of crisis such as housing, debt, employment, ill-health or fleeing domestic violence.
For Megan, that first visit to Mobile Foodbank nearly four years ago marked an important turning point.
“When I was standing in line, it was a little bit nerve wracking. You feel a bit like ‘oh this is me, this is where I’m at right now.’ But then you get the food parcel and you look through it and you can’t help but smile,” said Megan.
“It was like Christmas. And it still IS like Christmas, every time I get a pack. I love getting it home and opening it up. It’s a nice feeling unwrapping all the goodies.”
Megan shops at our Mobile Foodbank nearly every week, picking up a meat pack, a deli pack and sometimes a fish pack.
“I don’t like taking freebies. I always think ‘oh maybe there’s someone that could do with it more than me,’ but because we do pay for it that takes away the stigma of being charity.”
“What I particularly love about Foodbank WA is it gives us access to meat as it can be expensive. I really love meat and my daughter does too. I believe animal-based proteins are really important for the human brain, especially for a young person, like my daughter’s age,” said Megan.
“And by the way, she’s in an academic extension program, she plays clarinet. She gets As and Bs all the way you know, she’s really, really good. I’ve got lucky somehow!”
Having regular access to affordable food has eased Megan’s mental stresses and brought joy back to the kitchen.
“It’s allowed me to take time out. I’m working again now. I’m volunteering cooking at a church and I’ve got a cleaning job. It really allows you to put yourself first as a parent – to heal – because you know you can afford the basics,” said Megan. “With Foodbank WA, I can provide a higher quality of food to myself and my child, plus I love cooking. It’s a mental health thing – I LOVE cooking!”
Food security can be a fragile thing. When we first met Megan, she was on crutches with a broken ankle. She hadn’t been to visit our Mobile Foodbank for a while as she was unable to drive. Megan says it took away her independence and made a notable impact on her finances and diet.
“I was such a mess. It all went to hell in a handbasket when that happened. It really rattled me,” Megan said.
While it was a major setback for Megan, it was at least only temporary. For too many others food relief is non-existent where they live and plenty of those in crisis don’t have transport to reach our Centre for Hunger Relief.
Our Mobile Foodbanks serve 26 metro locations on a weekly timetable. We’ve added 20 locations to our service in the past two years but we’re a long way short of meeting demand.
Megan is grateful to be one of the luckier ones.
“Oh my gosh through the pandemic Foodbank WA has been an absolute saviour. There was never any time period where you weren’t providing,” she said. “The continuity is so good, the quality’s amazing and the Mobile Foodbank is just so convenient. For me not to have to go out to the airport and still be able to get these great deals, it’s really excellent.”