Community pantry in place to ease JobSeeker cut

Marian Nicholes shows a ‘family pack’ of food, available for any local family for a $5 donation.

The government’s JobSeeker payments are scheduled to be downscaled in ten days, from the current $1100 fortnightly payment to $815.70. A stop-gap to help local families who will suddenly be feeling the bite is Tumut’s Community Pantry, an initiative of the combined local churches. Throughout the fires and the pandemic, the Pantry has continued offering weekly single-person and family-sized boxes of food and basic essentials for a donation of $5.

Pantry spokesperson Sue Fisher said they had been bracing for large numbers of families visiting the Pantry during Covid, but numbers have so far remained steady – or slightly lower than during the fires. They’re prepared in case the drop in the JobSeeker payment results in extra financial pressure for Snowy Valleys families.

“People can have a box of non-perishable items, either a small single box or a large family box, they get that and then everything else is free, it goes with that. So we give them coffee, tea, sugar; there’s toiletry items and we also have some non-essential grocery items on a 50 cent/dollar table that they can purchase after that,” she explained. 

“Basically, it’s for a $5 contribution and then the 50 cent/dollar after that, and people leave with three or four bags of groceries and it’s only cost them $5.”

There are no income requirements to access the pantry and no registration other than for COVIDSafe protocols. Mrs Fisher said they don’t ask any questions about people’s income or family situations other than to provide assistance where it’s needed.

“We accept anybody who comes to the door. No judgement,” she said.

The Pantry is open every Friday from 10am-noon at the Uniting Church hall. Many of the fresh fruit and vegetables come from Coles’ second bite program, while frozen goods come from Woolworths and additional supplies are purchased through food supply companies or local vendors. The Pantry is able to store frozen and perishable items in freezers and fridges purchased with a recent $15,000 NSW Food Appeal grant. Mrs Fisher said that capacity means they have “plenty of room to grow” if the need for the Pantry grows. 

Leftover food from the Pantry is donated to other local charities or taken to the Adelong BlazeAid camp. Any non-edible items are shared with a local pig farmer.

A survey from the Australian Council of Social Services (Acoss) estimates that one third of the people currently receiving JobSeeker will have less than $14 a day to live on after the payment is cut back to its pre-pandemic rates.

There are currently 2.3 million people receiving JobSeeker. In the Acoss survey – which included 600 people receiving JobSeeker, Youth Allowance or parenting payments – 80 per cent said they would skip meals and reduce their intake of fresh fruit and vegetables to make ends meet once the payment is cut.