Debbie Ballenden and Peta Bricknell.

Debbie Ballenden (left), who receives food each week from Loaves and Fishes, and also delivers to her neighbours, with Starting Point Neighbourhood House coordinator, Peta Bricknell.

By Paul O'Rourke

The Monday queue of Launceston’s finest is lined up patiently and expectantly along the side of the Neighbourhood House waiting for the doors to open.

Ninety percent of emergency food relief delivered to the Starting Point Neighbourhood House at Ravenswood will be gone within the hour as clients file in and fill up for the week on hampers of fresh fruit and vegetables, ready-to-eat meals and occasionally cereal and milk.

“We will have sent out 30 to 40 bags of food in the first 10 minutes,” said coordinator, Peta Bricknell, who pretty much knows everyone by name, having lived in the area for 20 years.

“Loaves and Fishes helps a lot of people. I’d say we help 150 to 200 each week.

“There are many here who are malnourished.

“For some, the only fresh fruit and vegetables that goes into the house comes from Loaves and Fishes.

“We have single mums with five kids escaping domestic violence, pensioners and families struggling to pay their energy bills, those struggling with drug and alcohol issues or mental health issues.

“We have kids eating foods they have never had before, and families who haven’t had a decent meal in God knows how long.

“A lot of families don’t know how to cook a nutritious meal, so the pre-made meals are ideal.

“The bangers and mash, chilli con carne, roasts, shepherd’s pie, lasagne and spaghetti bolognese are crowd favourites.

“There were so many smiles at Easter when we had chocolate eggs.”

These are my people

Peta did a study placement at the neighbourhood centre about four years ago and never left.

“These are my people,” she said.

“There is no better way to help my neighbours.”

The Ravenswood centre is also a community hub for Loaves and Fishes, with several other neighbourhood and recovery centres and churches collecting their food drop from the neighbourhood centre.

Loaves and Fishes delivers about 3500kg of food each week in Launceston.

Debbie Ballenden

Debbie Ballenden unloading a crate of apples at Starting Point Neighbourhood House at Ravenswood.

The meals make a world of difference to pensioner Debbie Ballenden who collects food each week for herself and her neighbours from the Starting Point Neighbourhood House.

“The food helps a lot of people,” she said.

“I can get four meals from the large frozen meal bags which makes a big difference to my budget.

“The money I save puts fuel in the car and pays bills.

“One neighbour I take food to is single and has three kids, the other has four children.

“It makes an enormous difference to families with children.”

Debbie started collecting food for herself about six years ago.

A few weeks ago she gave a small donation to the Neighbourhood House to show her appreciation for the weekly food deliveries.

"I wanted to give something back for what I get," she said.

Now 65, Debbie can't get work, and found herself single and isolated after her partner left.

She desperately misses her daughter and two grandchildren who live in Newcastle, and whom she cannot afford to visit.

“It can be quite lonely.

“You often don’t want to cook just for one.''

“I love the silverside, chicken casserole, chilli con carne, pork and apple pie.

Benevolent Society partnering in care

Robin Boag

Launceston Benevolent Soicety volunteeer Robin Boag taking delivery of fruit and vegetables from Loaves and Fishes.

Across town at the Launceston Benevolent Society in Kings Meadows, an elderly pensioner who cares for his adult son struggling with mental illness, takes several attempts to back into one of the client parking spaces, holding up the Loaves and Fishes truck that has arrived with the weekly food delivery.

The truck driver waits patiently as the man, in his seventies, shuffles back and forth, trying to get between the elusive white lines.

“Many people here live week-to-week,” says Benevolent Society CEO, Rodney Spinks, who has just completed an interview with a mum wanting food for her family.

“It only takes an unexpected bill: power, registration or something else and there’s no money for food until next pay.

“We serve a variety of people, from 25 to 65. Single parents, pensioners, people on disability and carer’s pension, and homeless men and women.

“Some are repeat customers, while others need our help are for a period of time until they can get back on their feet.

“The mix of frozen meals and fresh produce is invaluable, and people are really appreciative.

“Occasionally we will home deliver.”

The Benevolent Society, one of Australia’s oldest charities, provides free food five days a week, supplementing donations from Loaves and Fishes with contributions from the organisation’s annual canned food drive and donations from the public and various supermarkets.