Published On: 18 September 2020Categories: Stories

Loaves and Fishes partner, Heaven’s Kitchen, has concerns about the impact on the most vulnerable when JobKeeper and JobSeeker are withdrawn or significantly reduced, potentially leaving many more people unemployed or sinking below the poverty line.

Heaven’s Kitchen Supervisor, Melissa Gregory, and Community Care Coordinator, Cheryl Jones, were reflecting on the impending threat as volunteers were preparing about 100 three-course takeaway meals for Devonport residents doing it tough. Overall demand for food has increased about 20 per cent since COVID.

The women say some families have already fallen through the cracks, earning too much to qualify for Jobseeker, but not enough to provide adequate food.

“These are what we refer to as the working poor or situational poverty,” Cheryl said.

People won’t be able to survive

“The loss of JobKeeper will leave many more people unemployed, and they won’t be able to survive on unemployment benefits when they are scaled back.”

Both income support payments reduce from this month. JobKeeper falls from $1500 to $1200 a fortnight for fulltime employees, and again in January to $1000. JobSeeker payments are cut $300 a fortnight from this month to $815.

Melissa said: “There are people who already go without meals to pay the rent and electricity.

“They literally have nothing in the cupboard when we visit them in their homes.

“Others run out of money and food a few days before their pension or unemployment benefits are due. They survive on the bear minimum of food until they can access emergency food or support.

“About 80 per cent of our clients are on some form of pension and many have disabilities, are elderly, have mental health issues or struggle with substance abuse. We also have a lot of people who are lonely and disadvantaged.”

Food service drastically changed

COVID-19 has already drastically changed the way Heaven’s Kitchen, a 15-year-old ministry of Gateway Community Care in Don Road, has delivered food, with care. Heaven’s Kitchen has adapted to the changing COVID environment, but never stopped serving the disadvantaged.

Long gone are the weekly Thursday night dine-in dinners where guests could enjoy a leisurely meal and chat with friends, followed by some form of entertainment.

Meals are now takeaway or home-delivered: pumpkin soup, jacket potatoes with chicken curry, and apple muffins. Loaves and Fishes supplies about 10 to 20 per cent of the fresh food converted into nutritious family meals. Loaves and Fishes also supplies frozen ready-to-eat meals and made-to-order family food hampers.

Heaven’s Kitchen spends an additional $300 each week on fresh food to meet demand. The kitchen has also been under pressure since the cool room and freezer broke down earlier in the year, meaning frozen food has to be stored in small chest freezers. Delays on a building extension because of COVID has put back a new kitchen by six months.

During stage four lockdown, volunteers delivered food to those without transport and in isolation or mandatory quarantine.

Zoom courses to keep connection

Heaven’s Kitchen has added Zoom cooking and budgeting courses and fortnightly connect groups for men and women. Gateway Community Care hopes to resume the dine-in meals later in the year.

Melissa says connection is equally as important as food in the Heaven’s Kitchen model.

“For many, being part of a community and building relationship with others who share your struggle is vital,” Melissa said.

“We also talk a lot about mutual exchange. People who come for a meal are invited to make a donation, help clean up, volunteer in some way.”

Heaven's Kitchen
Heaven’s Kitchen volunteers preparing takeaway meals during COVID-19.

By Paul O’Rourke

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