Epping-based Sikh Community Connections has delivered hundreds of meals and grocery packages to City of Whittlesea residents during the lockdown. Pictured are volunteers, from left, Baljinder Deo, Rummy Saini, Gurinder Kaur, Ritu Kukreja, Richie Kaur and Raj Pahwa

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

Vulnerable residents across the City of Whittlesea are relying on food donations during the current lockdown.

The State Government has locked down Melbourne since May 28 after a COVID-19 outbreak, much of which centred in the City of Whittlesea. As of yesterday, there were 32 cases in the City of Whittlesea.

Whittlesea Community Connections, WCC, has fielded hundreds of calls since lockdown began, delivering free groceries to homes daily.

“We have been inundated with requests for support,” WCC community support manager Belinda Leon said.

“Ninety-nine per cent of calls coming in are for food requests and they’re from people who have no current supplies.”

On Wednesday, when acting Premier James Merlino announced greater Melbourne’s circuit-breaker lockdown would be extended a further seven days, Ms Leon said WCC provided groceries to 68 households in one day.

Supplies have gone to residents who have lost income, or have no means of income in lockdown, including casual workers, international students, asylum seekers and women escaping family violence.

Epping-based meal delivery program Sikh Community Connections has also been busier than usual. Between May 27 and June 4, a team of 15 volunteers has delivered 423 meals and 68 grocery packs.

“The requests are coming from all across the City of Whittlesea,” president Gurinder Kaur said.

“The main cohort is international students but we have requests coming from permanent residents and citizens as well who are isolated or in quarantine at the moment.

“Besides [them], the requests also come from single mums, single dads, refugees, seniors and people who have lost jobs.”

Sikh Community Connections has run a COVID-19 emergency relief program since March 2020, receiving support from the City of Whittlesea.

Ms Kaur said demand for food had increased every day, and last week the group started recruiting more volunteers to help shop, cook, pack and deliver meals.

Without the Federal Government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy, the current lockdown has hit Melbourne hard. In response, the Federal Government last week announced ‘temporary COVID disaster payments’ to workers who had lost their incomes.

People over the age of 17 who usually work more than 20 hours a week are eligible for $500 a week after the first week of lockdown, or $325 if they work fewer hours.

The payment is available to residents of a commonwealth-declared hotspot, which is not determined by a state’s restrictions, making only greater Melbourne eligible.

It is the first time temporary visa holders and international students have been eligible for federal support since the pandemic began, but people receiving JobSeeker or other commonwealth payments are not eligible.

Ms Leon said the payments would only scratch the surface.

“They’re people who’ve got mortgages, they’re renting, they’ve got car loans … if you just look at rent, in our area the minimum rent is $350 or $400 a week for a unit or townhouse. If you’ve got a couple or family or single parents, they don’t have savings or money for a rainy day, they are living week to week,” she said.

“People have exhausted the very limited emergency relief resources that are available [and] have now gone over 12 months of hardship and uncertainty.”

Anyone needing help can call Whittlesea Community Connections on 9401 6644.

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