East Gippsland Neighbourhood Houses, which played a pivotal role in the recent bushfire crisis by providing food and a focal point for distressed residents, have been given a cash injection by the Victorian Government.
More than a dozen neighbourhood houses will receive an extra $10,000 in recognition of the efforts staff and volunteers played during and in the wake of last year’s firestorm.
They include Buchan, Bruthen, Benambra, Bemm River, Bairnsdale, Briagolong, Bendoc, Cann River, Lakes Entrance, Mallacoota, Orbost, Swifts Creek and Tubbut.
In making the announcement, Victoria’s Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, Luke Donnellan, said neighbourhood houses provided a sanctuary for many communities in the path of the summer bushfires, with people turning to them for shelter, clothes, food and emotional support.
“During the crisis, hundreds of volunteers from our neighbourhood houses lent a hand, whether it was cooking meals, providing clothes and equipment or just giving support. They went above and beyond,” Mr Donnellan said.
The extra monies will be used to pay for the extra support given by the neighbourhood houses.
Manager of the Lakes Entrance neighbourhood house, Gayle Webster, said a committee meeting would be held next month to decide how best to spend the additional funds.
President, Penny-Ann Clark, said the extra$10,000 was “a lovely surprise”.
“We weren’t expecting anything like this,” Ms Clark said.
“It’s great to see it going to smaller neighbourhood houses because they really need it.”
Ms Clark said while it will ultimately be up to the 13 member committee to decide where the funds are directed “our initial thoughts are it can help us with our Foodbank”.
Lakes Entrance Neighbourhood House would like to be able to provide a wider variety of products as part of its Foodbank service.
While most of the food offered at the Lakes Entrance Neighbourhood House comes from Foodbank Victoria, Ms Webster explained that she only purchases what is free on their site.
“We also collect from OzHarvest, which is twice a week,” she said.
OzHarvest, a food rescue charity, provides surplus produce for people in need and simultaneously prevents food waste from going to landfill. In the case of Lakes Entrance, Woolworths provides produce to OzHarvest.
Ms Webster said OzHarvest provided what was leftover.
“It’s not what you can rely on,” she said.
“To be able to purchase more staples so we can provide a more reliable selection of produce would be ideal.”
“People get disappointed if we have no bread or meat,” committee member, Linda Gordon, said.
Vice president, John Gordon, said during the bushfire crisis there were 20-30 per cent more people coming in.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, the Lakes Entrance Neighbourhood House has also noticed new faces coming in.
“It’s been a double whammy with the fire situation and the coronavirus,” Ms Webster said.
“Last Monday we had 45 people come in, 30 of whom we hadn’t seen before, who were unable to get what they wanted in the supermarket.”
The team at Lakes Entrance Neighbourhood House said its main priority was to ensure that those people who required essential items are able to access them.
The neighbourhood house accepts nonperishable food donations.
IMAGE: Lakes Entrance Neighbourhood House vice president, John Gordon, packs a bag with essential food items with the assistance of Linda Gordon while manager, Gayle Webster, looks on. K248-5544