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Brisbane charities swamped as economic fallout from pandemic deepens, with no government assistance in sight

When Brazilian student Hayane first moved to Australia to study a diploma in leadership and management, she never imagined she’d be forced to rely on a charity to stop her from going hungry.

But after the university student’s working hours were drastically slashed due to the coronavirus shutdown, she was left with no other choice.

Ineligible for any financial support from the Government, Hayane has been relying on free food for the past two months.

“I don’t want to take free food that could help other people in more need than me but I decided this is the only place I come,” she said.

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“The money that I earn I can spend on my rent and this food really helps.”

Hayane smiles in a pink jumper with people standing behind her.
Hayane is one of many university students who are ineligible for financial support from the government.(ABC News: Andree Withey)

Number of mouths to feed doubles

Hayane is one of hundreds of people who have lined the streets in the Brisbane suburb of West End to receive free food from south Brisbane-based charity, Community Friends.

The organisation’s founder, Mark McDonnell, said the number of people they were feeding had doubled over the course of the pandemic.

“Last week the lines were so long, some people missed out.”

Mark McDonnell stands in front of a table with bags of food on it.
Community Friends founder Mark McDonnell says smaller charities like his are doing it tough without government assistance.(ABC News: Andree Withey)

In a Facebook post, Community Friends said the line up for food last week was so long it started in a park and snaked its way to the end of Thomas Street.

“About 30 people missed out on food altogether. We’ve never had so many people miss out before,” the post read.

“These people had waited so long in the line and still they missed out.”

A line of people sit and stand on the side of a road.
Community Friends says 30 people missed out on free food last week.(Supplied: Facebook)

Community Friends is one of several charities across Queensland reporting a similar spike in demand for its services.

Other Queensland charities such as Foodbank, Riverlife Baptist Church and programs run by the University of Queensland have all experienced a surge in demand.

As job cuts bite and the economic fallout of the pandemic deepens, an increasing number of people have been relying on charities to help put food on the table.

“Coronavirus has also seen our clientele change and it’s now international students who make up the majority of those in need,” Mr McDonnell said.

“They are doing it tough.

“Students who work for food delivery businesses have to pay $80 a week to hire the required bicycles to do the job … let alone [to] find the money for the cost of their accommodation and other expenses.”

Foodbank Queensland said it had been “overwhelmed” with demand since the onset of the pandemic.

The organisation said it expected the situation to deteriorate further after the Federal Government indicated plans to cut the JobKeeper wage subsidy in coming months.

Hampers are packed inside a Foodbank warehouse.
Foodbank Queensland says it needs more pallets of food to cope with the demand.(Website: Foodbank SA)

Charities struggling without support

Mr McDonell said all the smaller charities like his were doing it tough with no government assistance.

Despite receiving no financial support from the Queensland Government and relying solely on public donations, the organisation also helps TAFE Queensland feed 2,000 international students two days every week.

The organisation collects more than 21 million kilograms of food and groceries from farmers, manufacturers and retailers each year that would otherwise go to waste.

It recently had to relocate due to social distancing requirements so that those in need could safely line up on the street and pick up their food before moving on.

Each week, volunteers Julie and Warren Barnhill have helped collect food, load the truck and hand out bags for Community Friends.

“We were lucky enough to retire young and we had always donated financially to different charities but now we’re able to donate our time,” Ms Barnhill said.

“It is good to give back and help people in need,” Mr Barnhill said.

Numerous plastic bags line a long table in a park where people mill about.
Bags of fruit and vegetables have been prepared for those in need by Community Friends volunteers in Brisbane’s West End.(ABC News: Andree Withey)

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