RACV’s recipe for relief

RACV Emergency Goods Assist team members holding a meal in front of an RACV van

Clare Barry

Posted January 28, 2021

As demand for food relief continues in regional communities, RACV volunteers deliver their 100,000th meal.

RACV has reached a significant milestone in its emergency goods assist service, delivering its 100,000th meal to Victorians in need of food relief.

The service, which commenced in March last year, draws on RACV staff volunteers to deliver meals prepared in the City Club kitchens to frontline relief agencies around the state. As demand has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the service has expanded from metropolitan Melbourne to Ballarat, Gippsland, the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas, as well as Shepparton, where earlier this month, RACV delivered its 100,000th meal.

Like many regional centres, Shepparton has been hit hard by the fallout from COVID-19. Shepparton Foodshare, which supports 110 grassroots services in the local area and across the Moira, Mitchell, Murrindindi and Strathbogie shires, experienced an 80 per cent surge in demand for food at the height of the pandemic.

Among the frontline agencies it supports is Shepparton Family and Financial Services, where emergency relief support worker Julie Pascoe says: “Probably about 30 per cent of our clientele would never have asked for help in their life before COVID.”

Julie says the RACV emergency goods assist meals, which are packed in plastic pouches, are especially welcome for the city’s homeless population. “Even if they have nothing else they have a campfire and a pot to boil water and it’s something easy they can heat up,” she says.

“There’s a big, big need in the Shepparton area,” Julie says. “Probably 30 per cent of our clients are ‘no fixed address’. Some have tents, some don’t, some couch surf then end up living back down by the river.” She says this was the fate of a pair of Queenslanders after they were shut off from their home by border closures last year.

Julie expects client numbers to keep rising in coming months as Jobkeeper payments and banks’ mortgage deferrals wind up. “A lot of people have used Afterpay and credit cards just to cover Christmas costs and then in coming months it’s going to fall apart because when the bill comes in the money’s not there.”

It’s a scenario played out across Victoria as the economic effects of the pandemic take hold in households and communities.

In Ocean Grove, former caterer Lana Purcell has seen demand soar from hundreds of meals a week to thousands at Feed Me Bellarine, the food relief service she co-founded with chef Anthony Woodbury in September 2019.  

Last March, as COVID closed her business, Lana devoted herself fulltime to the charity which now feeds more than 10,000 people a week. She says the thousands of ready-made meals delivered by RACV’s emergency goods assist have made “a massive difference”. “It’s something our chefs don’t have to prepare,” she says.

The charity operates on a “no questions, no agendas” basis, prioritising respect, dignity and anonymity. “Anyone can find themselves in a bad situation so we wanted to create something where you could ask for help and not be questioned or judged.”

Their clients range from those who were homeless before the pandemic to previously comfortable families where both parents suddenly lost their jobs. Lana says many of her clients have never needed to ask for help before. Others may be dealing with addiction or mental health issues or fleeing domestic violence and living in crisis accommodation, with only a microwave or a cooktop to prepare meals.

RACV’s general manager social impact and corporate communications, Louise Steinfort, says supporting regional Victorians is a priority for RACV. “By extending our emergency goods assist service to regional Victoria, we have been able to reach more vulnerable community members in need of nutritious meals.”