Its been two months since the Coast came out of lockdown, but for many residents in the north, financial stress is still their daily reality.
One local outreach network, Southlake Marketplace, is helping keep food on the table.
Southlake Marketplace have been servicing the people of the former Wyong LGA and Lake Macquarie since 2013.
The volunteer led organisation was founded by Hamlyn Terrace’s Christine Mastello, and over the years, it has grown to be a permanent fixture in the Coast’s food services.
From its Cooranbong hub, the organisation manages Lake Munmorah, Gwandalan and Blue Haven Foodbanks and provides counselling services, mobile haircuts and accommodation services for the homeless and similarly disadvantaged.
Southlake also runs a monthly community café for isolated seniors.
The organisation typically services around 300 clients with discounted or free food every week, but since March. those numbers have ballooned, with more and more people finding themselves out of work and facing food insecurity for the first time.
To help meet the increased demand and to comply with COVID guidelines, Mastello and her team launched a new hamper home delivery service to ensure that people weren’t falling through the cracks.
Fourteen weeks on and that service has delivered over 1,400 hampers, with 620 of those being free.
Based on household numbers, Mastello said this equated to roughly 9,500 people getting a meal.
“We’re getting around 50 inquiries a week and a lot of them are coming in from areas that we don’t service, which just breaks my heart,” Mastello said.
But what’s surprised Mastello the most has been the number of requests coming in from households in more complex situations.
“For instance, the number of requests we’ve gotten from families where someone is going through cancer has been confronting, especially when the request is coming from a child or teenager whose parent is sick.
“We’re also getting a lot of requests from large families with five or more children who need extra support right now.
“It’s really shown the diversity of need on the Coast,” Mastello said.
And that diversity has led to some new resolutions for Mastello, with Southlake’s work over the past few months affirming the need to strengthen their offering on the Coast.
Mastello is now looking to secure a warehouse, possibly at Charmhaven, to increase Southlake’s storage capacity and to help streamline its Central Coast services.
“We’ve also received a grant from Central Coast Council which will allow us to deliver an additional 20 free hampers for 26 weeks, and we’ve just partnered with another local food service, Coast Hands, to start delivering 100 precooked meals a month to families in San Remo and Blue Haven,” Mastello said.
Mastello said the organisation was also looking to expand its disadvantaged hairdressing initiative, Community Hair Project, to provide hairdressing workshops to members of remote indigenous communities, a move she’s hopeful will lead to employment opportunities and community enrichment.