Not-for-profit aid agency Foodbank is calling for $10 million from the Federal Government to help meet an unprecedented demand for food in drought and bushfire-affected communities.
The charity has delivered 2,500 pallets of food worth around $5 million to communities in January alone.
CEO Brianna Casey said the demand was on a scale they had never seen before and they had been delivering food in extreme circumstances to communities in desperate need.
Within 24 hours of the fires hitting Mallacoota in Victoria, Foodbank was delivering food to residents stranded on the beach.
“In the following days we were able to lean on the military to get defence force vehicles to go in there [and] we used air drops.”
Even before the fires, Foodbank was feeding 815,000 people a month.
But that number has increased again due to the large number of people recently left homeless.
“We know we’ve lost more that 2,000 homes … and demand is outstripping supply,” Ms Casey said.
She said the drought had affected the amount of food the corporate sector was donating and the organisation’s supplies were at an all time low.
Every second Australian raising money for fire relief
The Australian public has responded to the fire emergency with record levels of donations.
Not-for-profit charity Good2Give said one in every two people in Australia has donated money, often through workplace giving programs.
Many large corporations have donated millions of dollars, but they have also supported charities and communities in other ways and encouraged their employees to contribute as well.
Brambles has donated $500,000 to Foodbank, Red Cross, and other charities, and is pooling equipment to provide pallets and logistics support to Foodbank.
Its staff in the metropolitan areas are involved in packing the produce for distribution and the company is matching staff donations from its branches around the world.
There is a lot of pro-bono work being done to help communities rebuild, and not-for-profit legal group Justice Connect is coordinating many offers of legal support from law firms.
Mining company South32 gave $1 million to the major charities while their employees donated another $80,000, which the company is matching.
Manufacturer Kimberly Clark provided Foodbank with nappies, sanitary products, and tissues to help affected communities, and their global counterparts set up matching programs for staff to donate to the World Wildlife Foundation and the Australian Red Cross.
Electricity company AGL has given its workers uncapped paid leave to volunteer for firefighting duties and relief agencies, while the firm has donated $3 million to charity and is waiving energy bills for customers who lost their homes.
Coca-Cola is providing heavy discounts to affected small businesses to get them back on their feet and has put another $1 million into the Coca-Cola Foundation to fund recovery efforts.
Coles gave $3 million worth of gift cards to more than 6,000 rural fire brigades across the country in addition to the $1.5 million it donated to Red Cross.
Woolworths donated a large sum, and German grocer Aldi has pitched in as well.
Cement manufacturer Boral is working with long-term community partner Conservation Volunteers Australia to help rebuild fire devastated habitats.
Together, they are creating projects close to Boral’s business sites where staff can participate in replanting.
Vodafone offered a two-month free mobile service for frontline volunteers during December and January and a free mobile wi-fi option for people who lost their homes.
The firm bolstered assistance with additional data for customers in bushfire-affected areas and payment support or relief.
The list is long, varied, and not at all exhaustive, but the Business Council of Australia — which has established its own community rebuilding fund — reckons its members have contributed more than $33 million in cash donations to major charities.
Many famous Australians found a way to donate money as well — some through an auction run by Lloyds which raised a six-figure sum.
However, Foodbank is warning that the rush of support will be hard to sustain.
They have been backed, over many years, by major rural corporations such as Costa, Bega Cheese, Simplot, and Fletchers, but Ms Casey said they were sensing donor fatigue.
Ms Casey said Foodbank was concerned about the supply of food in the months and years ahead.
“We need federal funds,” she said.
The charity was also deeply concerned about the “impoverishment” of rural communities from drought and fires.
People who lost homes and regional businesses are obviously suffering, but underlying this crisis is the impact of floods in Queensland 12 months ago and the long drought across much of Australia.
Ms Casey said she believed many families would struggle in the coming months and the recovery would take years.
She said a planned, phased, and sophisticated approach was necessary.
“It’s going to be a really tough year,” she said.
“We are seeing rates of poverty and inequality we’ve never seen before [and] we’re going to see unprecedented demand for food relief.”