Freedom Care volunteers Gillian Bowcott, left, and Marina Walker, right, with operations manager Sue Dalton in the grocery aisles at the Kilmore centre located in Willowmavin Road.

By Tricia Mifsud

Kilmore food relief centre Freedom Care is urging families to seek help if they are experiencing financial hardships, particularly those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Operations manager Sue Dalton said prior to COVID-19, Freedom Care assisted about 50 families each day, and had increased to at least 70 families in the initial stages of the pandemic.

However, Freedom Care has seen a drop in the number of families it is helping, and is reminding the community it remains open, even through lockdowns.

“When COVID-19 hit, we started at over 70 families, because everyone was freaking out, but since then, in the last six to eight months, everyone is too scared to go out,” Ms Dalton said.

“So now they’re not coming, which is hard, but we want to be able to support them because a lot of these families still need the help.”

Ms Dalton said a fear of leaving the house during the pandemic was noticeable in the elderly, especially as they were worried about getting sick.

She suggested people worried about leaving the house could ask a family member or friend to visit Freedom Care to pick up goods on their behalf.

“Each person has an application, and when they sign up, we give them a card with a number on it,” she said.

“If an elderly person [or anyone who can’t pick up the goods themselves] gives somebody else their card, all they have to do is ring up and let us know that somebody else us coming in, and that’s no problem at all.”

With four children at home and her husband currently unwell and unable to work, Ms Dalton said she understood the importance of food relief centres like Freedom Care. She said she was a client herself to help save some money that could be used for bills.

“If this place wasn’t here, I don’t know how I’d survive, I really don’t because I shop here first and then go elsewhere for what I need,” she said.

“By coming here, I find that I can save around $150 a week.”

Each item available at Freedom Care is given a unit value, which is usually a third of the retail price when purchasing the item at a supermarket.

Dependent on a person’s situation, families are given a unit total they can use to select their goods.

The total units accumulated are then calculated, giving families a suggested donation figure for the goods.

“So, as they walk through the door, they let us know how many are in their family and we’ll give them a unit amount,” Ms Dalton said.

“They pick the goods to that value, so they’re getting what they want, then if they can afford to make a donation, they can choose to do so.

“Nobody though has to come here and donate – they can just come here and get food.”

There is no limit on the number of times families can visit Freedom Care.

“You can come every day if you need to,” Ms Dalton said.

Freedom Care purchases the bulk of its items from Foodbank, as well as receiving items like bread, which can be placed on Freedom Care shelves for the following day, from supermarkets such as Coles and Woolworths.

Clients can pick up bread, fruit and vegetables, canned goods, frozen foods (depending on availability), sweets and confectionery, toiletries, cleaning products and many other goods.

Freedom Care was established in 2009 to support victims of the Black Saturday bushfires and initially began its services in Wallan.

With demand for its service growing in the community, Freedom Care moved to its current location in Kilmore, on Willowmavin Road, near the corner of the Northern Highway.

To volunteer with Freedom Care, or to make a donation, call 0422 599 735 or visit its website freedomcare.org.au.

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