For many Sunshine Coast families, food insecurity is becoming a frightening reality. But local groups are continuing to tackle the problem in the community.
For more than 20 years Suncoast Care, the service arm of Suncoast Church, has been serving the needs of vulnerable people on the Coast and today facilitates
a range of programs including a low-cost food outlet, meal kitchen, breakfast and pantry programs, and emergency relief.
Suncoast Care program co-ordinator Karen Gullo says the need for services is growing as a result of the COVID pandemic and high unemployment rates.
“With the pandemic we have seen a significant increase in the need for emergency relief and the provision of food hampers as well as increasing requests associated with the current housing affordability crisis,” Ms Gullo tells My Weekly Preview.
“During the recent lockdown, within hours we received a request for 100 meals for local Sunshine Coast University students, many of whom had lost their casual work and were not sure how they were going to be able to afford to eat.
“The other significant trend that we are seeing is more families and individuals than ever experiencing a squeeze on their finances due to increased rental costs and lack of rental availability.
“Individuals and families that could previously make ends meet are not able to do so, leading to increase in food insecurity across the Sunshine Coast.”
Recent statistics from Foodbank reveals a 47 per cent increase in demand for food relief since the start of the pandemic. The hunger relief charity also says the hardest-hit age group is 18- to 25-year-olds and that 33 per cent of food insecure residents in Queensland had not gone hungry before the pandemic.
To help alleviate pressure, Suncoast Care’s low-cost grocery store on Howard Street offers those experiencing financial stress membership and access to significantly reduced-priced items.
“Many items are very low-cost, and some are even free with new specials available in store every week,” Ms Gullo says. “With the ever-increasing cost of living we know there is more pressure than ever on peoples’ finances and at Suncoast Care we want to help your dollar stretch further and make good nutrition affordable.”
Suncoast Care also rescues 220 tonnes of food every year from supermarkets and fresh food stores, while local farmers donate another 50 tonnes of produce.
“We have a number of amazing farmers and local business partners that support us every week with the donation of produce and products for which we are very grateful.”
The service relies on the community to keep programs running and Ms Gullo says residents can volunteer for a variety of roles, donate or become involved in year-round campaigns, including the Christmas Hope Hampers program.
“There is always room for more and also the opportunity for business that may want to sponsor our programs or our refrigerated food trucks.”
Meanwhile Caloundra’s Gateway Care earlier this year launched its Random Acts of Community Kindness (RACK) initiative, allowing Sunshine Coast residents to purchase vouchers for struggling families to use at its grocery store.
Gateway director Amanda Peterson says the RACK vouchers are a way to show kindness while providing practical support to families and people on the Sunshine Coast that need help.
“Gateway have over 10,000 families on its database and last year alone, we provided support to 3500 families – an increase of 50 families each week against previous year averages,” she says.
“We know that the cost of food and living can at times exceed what many people can afford, and many families are crying out for help. In April 2021, Gateway had a further 143 new families join. The number of families we are supporting has increased by 46 per cent over the last five years and reflects the continued growth and need in our community for services for people who are struggling.”