Exhausted volunteers continue to run Albury Wodonga Regional FoodShare at up to 40 per cent above normal volumes as the "real community crisis" hits home in fire-ravaged communities.
During January, the organisation dispatched 100 tonnes of food, water and household staples to fire zones in the Upper Murray thanks to an outpouring of generosity from Border residents, who donated the equivalent of three months' supply of FoodShare's usual intake, according to board chair Simon Welsh.
He said volunteer hours doubled to ensure the timely delivery of aid in the immediate aftermath of the fires with FoodShare opening 27 days out of 31 in January.
But the valiant effort has taken its toll on the team's fatigue levels - and finances.
The organisation wore an extra $18,500 in costs during this period for additional food purchases, fuel, vehicle wear and tear, and labour, a report from the operations manager reveals.
Mr Welsh said FoodShare would continue to provide high levels of support into fire-affected areas in coming months, which would see costs spiral to $30,000 in an "already lean" operation.
Once the adrenaline is gone ... that's when the real community crisis begins.Simon Welsh
"The need hasn't gone away - we are still sending food to the fire grounds and that will continue for months to come," he said.
"Once the adrenaline is gone ... that's when the real community crisis begins."
In addition, Mr Welsh said the organisation had to continue to balance its regular operations against a backdrop of critical food insecurity in regional areas.
A 2019 report prepared for FoodShare (drawing on data from ACOSS, the University of NSW and FoodBank Australia) showed 5,757 people required food relief on any given day.
"Of those who experienced food insecurity, 26 per cent (12,254) needed help at least weekly," it said.
"This figure represents individuals and families on the sharpest end of the food insecurity spectrum - those who need food relief for survival on a regular basis ..."
Mr Welsh said there was an "unbelievable need" for food relief across the North East and Southern Riverina, which had been further exacerbated by drough and recent devastating bushfires.
"We can only service half the number of people who need help," he said.
FoodShare is seeking support from Victoria's Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers Luke Donellan to fund a more sustainable model.
"We are looking for a positive resolution that recognises the importance of FoodShare to regional communities and addresses food insecurity issues," Mr Welsh said.
"We have the infrastructure, connectivity and relationships to respond quickly in a crisis."
The local group is exploring options including introducing a shopfront where people could purchase a week's worth of food for a nominal fee.