Zigi Abolitis from Nullum House Murwillumbah packs the shelves of their new food pantry which has opened to cater for the growing need of help in the community.Photo: Scott Powick Daily NewsTWE281015zigi
Zigi Abolitis from Nullum House Murwillumbah packs the shelves of their new food pantry which has opened to cater for the growing need of help in the community.Photo: Scott Powick Daily NewsTWE281015zigi Scott Powick

Mur’bah pantry helping out in tough times

IN a sign of the times, charity food pantries are a growth industry in Australia.

The latest to launch on the Northern Rivers is at Murwillumbah's Nullum House which already has more than 80 customers after opening over three weeks ago.

But in a departure from the normal operating procedure, the Murwillumbah pantry is open to everyone, not just those holding consession cards.

"We didn't want to exclude anyone in the community because bad times fall on all people," says Zigi Abolitis who manages the service.

"A lot of seniors have assets but no cash.

"You've got health issues and families with large mortgages.

"We all need a hand up sometimes."

In order to be able to help as many people as possible, there is a $15 spending limit in the pantry which is a five metre square room lined with shelves groaning with a variey of packaged and tinned goods.

On top of that customers can buy three items from a well-stocked freezer with the bill usually coming to no more than $20.

Zigi says that normally fetches customers at least four bags of groceries - a fraction of what you'd pay at a normal supermarket.

For example, baby formula 900gm $2.00 you'd be looking at around $20 in the shops.

A 500gm packet of pasta costs just 50 cents.

Most of their groceries are sourced from Foodbank headquarters in Brisbane, Sydney and Lighthouse Care at Loganholme.

Foodbank rescues edible surplus food and groceries from the manufacturers, retailers and farmers.

It includes products that are close to date code, have incorrect labelling or damaged packaging as well as excess stock and deleted lines.

Registration is $3 a year and customers are allowed to shop once a week on Wednesdays or Fridays.

Free fresh fruit and vegetables are also available five days a week at Nullum House that are donated by Coles supermarket as part of the Secondbite program.

Only one shopper at a time is allowed into the pantry.

"It's about giving people a bit of privacy and dignity because a lot of people have difficulty asking for help," says Zigi.

Nullum House co-ordinator Amanda Lindh said the main motivation to launch the food pantry was the raft of Federal Government funding cuts in recent years that had greatly reduced their ability to offer emergency relief.

It is hoped that the food pantry will be a self-sustaining service where the cost of freight and other running expenses are covered by the customers purchase of discounted groceries.

Ms Lindh said over the last two years they had seen a significant rise in the number of single parents and the working poor seeking assistance.

When the cuts to parent payments kicked in 18 months ago, some people were taken off the parenting payment and placed on Newstart.

"Because of those cuts some people were losing $250 a fortnight; that's a huge drop in income," says Amanda.

"Some of these people were already struggling to afford their rent."

She said a shortage of rental properties in Murwillumbah had seen rents soar.

"It's actually cheaper to rent on the Gold Coast than Murwillumbah.

"There's probably about 20 people who apply to each property that's available to rent."

The casualisation of the workforce has also had an impact.

"So if people can save on food they can use more money on their rent," Amanda said.

She said the feedback on the service had been overwhelmingly positive.

"We've had a lot of people return each week."

Forced to couch surf in her 60s

AT 63-years of age Gail Mendes has recently found herself in the devastating position of having to couch surf at friends' homes.

A couple of weeks ago she was asked to vacate her Murwillumbah rental home as the owners plan to place it on the market.

Battling a serious illness which saw her having to give up her chef job two years ago, plus a dearth of affordable rentals in Murwillumbah, has conspired against her being able to find a new place to live.

"At the moment I'm too sick to even worry about finding another," she says.

And so she is forced to rely on the generosity of friends who host her in their homes.

Gail was one of the first to sign up for the Murwillumbah community food pantry which launched three weeks ago.

"Without the help of this place I wouldn't have made it through the last couple of months," she says.

"It's so good you can afford to buy groceries that you otherwise couldn't.

"It's really good value for what you get."

Murwillumbah Community pantry grocery prices:

Fish fingers 750gm $5.00

McCain's Peas 2kg $3.00

McCain Mixed Veges 500gm $2.00

Sausage rolls 530gm $3.50

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