How the invisible victims of Australia’s food cost crisis are the hardest hit

As shoppers across the country continue to feel the brunt of soaring food prices, many food aid services supporting the most vulnerable in our community are being hit twice as hard.

Not only are they forced to pay extortionate prices for pantry staples, but the public donations they rely on so heavily are scarce as consumers grapple with the cost of living tighten their purse strings. .

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This month, Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Center (ASRC) spent $3/kg on basmati rice used to feed 1,500 people a fortnight through its lunch service.

This time last year, that same amount of rice would have cost the nonprofit about $1.80/kg, just over half the cost.

When you buy food in bulk, as the ASRC does, that price increase translates into thousands of dollars.

“Suddenly our food costs are two, three – it depends on the items – sometimes four times what they were when the same number of people need that food,” said ASRC founder and chief executive, Kon Karapanagiotidis.

“It’s incredibly stressful right now and…for a lot of people, especially the single men we work with who have been separated from their families, it’s the only hot meal they get, the only meal homemade they get,” he said.

CURC spent more than $32,000 on rice last week, a drastic increase over what it would have paid last year. Credit: Twitter/Kon Karapanagiotidis

Larger food relief services like Foodbank, OzHarvest and SecondBite told that they had not yet been seriously affected by the price hikes, largely because they work in partnership with large supermarkets or manufacturers.

But for those who don’t – like the ASRC and Empower Australia, a small Victoria-based service that feeds just under 1,000 people a week – providing continued food aid to growing numbers of people is becoming difficult.

“Since the start of the year, we have seen an increase of around 30% in the number of new beneficiaries coming to our food relief centres,” said Empower Australia chief executive Neil Smith.

“This has resulted in an overall 20% increase in the number of beneficiaries over the last two months.”

Smith told that Foodbank, one of the charity’s main partners, provided free food for a period in 2021 but has since had to start charging to cope with the increased costs.

“This will require additional funding of $50,000 to $60,000 per year just to maintain our steady supply from one partner,” he said.

“Other partners and suppliers have also been forced to raise prices as the cost of food has increased by 15-30% across the board.”

The director general of the Resource Center for Asylum Seekers, Kon Karapanagiotidis, said the organization found it difficult to engage in partnerships with companies due to the nature of its work. Credit: AAP

Although the ASRC also works closely with Foodbank, which is able to supply the organization with some of what it needs, it does not have the luxury of collaborations with supermarkets and is mostly on its own. responsible for buying his own food in bulk.

Being an organization that defends and advocates for asylum seekers, a highly politicized issue, Karapanagiotidis said companies might be cautious about partnering.

Instead, the ASRC relies heavily on funds donated by the public throughout the year to buy the food it needs.

However, Karapanagiotidis said the current cost of living crisis means many can no longer afford to donate to organizations like his.

“We’re down over 30% of our donations compared to the same period last year, while donations are down 30%, the cost of everything we do is over 300%,” he said. -he declares.

Smith said that despite the challenges, Empower Australia remained hopeful.

“We approach the current season with persistence and optimism,” he said.

Unfortunately for CURC, Karapanagiotidis said it was not enough to hope.

“We all have hope, but hope doesn’t put food in people’s bellies.”