Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

The NSW / VIC border towns of Albury / Wodonga and surrounds were severely impacted by the cross-border lockdowns during COVID restrictions. THose who live in these adjacent communities consider them one town, yet community members were unable to cross the border unless there was an extenuating circumstance. That meant families were unable to support isolated elderly family members and those living in challenging conditions, and this was exacerbated by the devastating effects of the Black Saturday bushfires which also affected the community.

HEADING: Combatting COVID with Care. IMAGE: Albury Wodonga Regional FoodShare Logo.

The COVID Regional Community Support program, which was funded by the New South Wales Government and delivered by FRRR, was designed to support community groups and associated volunteers that incurred expenses in delivering food and personal care items to individuals and families affected by COVID lockdowns, by contributing funds to support ongoing service provision.

One such organisation to benefit from this program with a reimbursement grant of $13,500 was Albury Wodonga Regional FoodShare, who has supported those in need in their community since 2011, and their response to the COVID-19 pandemic was remarkable.

FoodShare commenced their Community Pantry program in 2020, which enabled food hampers to be delivered directly to members of the community. To alleviate some of the hardship experienced by families in the region due to the long-term impacts of COVID and cross-border lockdowns, they also coordinated two local pop-up hamper drive-throughs in September 2021, which provided 300 families with emergency food relief.

During the peak of the COVID outbreak, 1,200 food hampers, including culturally appropriate ingredients, were distributed locally across the region. More than half of these were delivered directly to local homes as part of a coordinated COVID emergency relief effort.

To facilitate the immediate increase in demand for FoodShare’s services, operations were extended to seven days a week. This put a strain on resources, particularly on volunteers, but was necessary to keep the community safe. On average, 30 households received hampers each day, and in many instances, this doubled on occasions during the peak of the local COVID outbreak.

To provide specialised support for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, FoodShare was supported by local organisations such as Albury-Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council (AWECC) and Murray Valley Sanctuary Refugee Group. These agencies took enquiries from CALD households who were in isolation due to the COVID outbreak. These agencies also assisted by nominating culturally specific ingredients and in some instances. their volunteers purchased additional food items and delivered these to the CALD households.

In addition to delivering hampers to local residents, FoodShare was also asked to deliver food and personal care hampers to various locations where people had been forced to isolate in accordance with Health Orders, including Rutherglen Hotels, Howlong and the Albury Caravan Park. Over 4,500 kilometres were logged from October to December last year on just one of the FoodShare vans, which was dedicated to supporting COVID operations. To support the heightened increase in demand, an additional van was also hired in November to support delivering hampers to COVID households.

This is a wonderful example of the critical role that so many local NFPs played, and the way in which they collaborated with other groups to support their community. FRRR is pleased to have been able to support this program and help the NSW Government to reimburse FoodShare for some of the costs incurred in supporting their community.