AN EMPTY stomach doesn’t charge you huge interest, hassle you with calls or letters demanding payment, cut off your power or throw you out of your house.
You just go hungry.
So when it comes to deciding how to use a limited income, more and more people are putting food last.
Country residents appear particularly affected – a Victorian government discussion paper in September noted regional and rural communities had 45 per cent more people who ran out of food in the last year compared with their city counterparts.
Border church and community groups that provide emergency food relief say the demand for their services continues to grow.
Birallee Park Neighbourhood House co-ordinator Amanda Skrypczak said this year their program had produced 22,130 individual frozen meals to mid-November.
“Last year (overall) we made ‘only’ 15,956,” she said.
Project manager Sue Slater said the food service began in 2009 with the thought of providing about 100 meals a month.
“It turns out we never did 100 meals a month, we were doing minimum 100 a week at that stage,” she said.
“It’s grown from there to over 60,000 meals to date.
“Our need’s gone up, particularly over the last 18 months.”
The neighbourhood house supplies meals to other agencies but also has some walk-in clients.
Mrs Slater said while some people were in crisis, such as living in cars, others had jobs but still found it hard to cope.
“People who’ve had a lot of utility bills and can’t make their house payment,” she said,
“It’s not who you would normally associate, as in unemployed or ill or retirees, although certainly retirees are doing it tough on the pension.”
The Commons, a North Albury shopfront run by the Goodlife Community Co-operative, opened earlier this year and reported 100 to 200 people through its doors each day.
Volunteer Helen Masterman-Smith said the volume of food available to give out did not meet the demand.
“So we run out here every day within about an hour of opening," she said.
“The numbers of people are increasing on a weekly basis and the capacity of this organisation and the volunteers who run it essentially is getting pretty stretched quite quickly.
“This morning for example and yesterday, we had 35 people standing outside the door waiting for us to open.
“It’s sort of like the old-fashioned bread queues and food queues of the Great Depression, really.”
Dr Masterman-Smith said many people on low incomes also had disabilities or health issues, which could make it harder to access food relief.
But a wide range of people – men, women, young, old, unemployed, working, families and singles – used The Commons.
“Every culture and faith group,” she said. “A growing number of young children coming in after school, on their own in some cases.”