Groceries and meals packed by Epping-based Sikh Community Connections.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

Organisations across the City of Whittlesea continue to support a growing number of people in need of food and essential goods as a result of lost income during lockdowns.

United Minds Psychology has seen a 50 per cent increase in demand for its public open pantry in Doreen since the pandemic began, with the demographics of people in need also diversifying.

“These last two lockdowns [have been] really just anyone and everyone without work,” United Minds Psychology coordinator Tracey Russell said.

“This lockdown, people are a lot more stressed and we’re starting to notice it’s a lot of older people that are starting to come in, whereas last year it was a lot of single mums that were needing help, and people [escaping] domestic violence.”

Though primarily a psychology and counselling organisation, United Minds works with community groups and houses to provide essential services to regular clients, as well as members of the public who call to ask for help.

“We find that it’s more about dignity and for us it’s extending the therapy past the room and helping in a holistic way,” she said.

But Ms Russell said the pantry had been steadily getting ‘busier and busier’ since it launched in 2019, fielding an increasing number of enquires from people in need who reach out directly.

“We started in 2019 through having leftovers from our Christmas drive and we started just for our own clients … but we found early in lockdown last year we just went right, let’s expand,” she said.

Unlike many other organisations who deliver grocery packs or cooked meals, Ms Russell said the pantry gave people sense of independence.

“We invite the consumer to come to us so that way they can chose the items that best serve them and their dietaries,” she said.

“To have them come in and feel everything’s discretional and pick and choose the items they want, and then they can go away feeling a little more at ease.”

Ms Russell said for some volunteers it was overwhelming to hear everyone’s stories as they visited the pantry, but they could see the positive impacts the service had on people’s mental health.

“People just need to know that someone is caring about them and thinking about them,” she said.

“We’re trying to confirm to them that there is good out there.”

There are many organisations offering emergency food, groceries and essential goods relief, including:

Encompass Care Vic, for grocery packs call 0422 461 847.

Whittlesea Community Connections, call 9401 6666 for emergency financial assistance for essentials, or Whittlesea Food Collective on the same number for groceries.

Whittlesea Community House, call 9716 3361 for food vouchers from businesses as well as pet food, for collection by appointment during lockdown.

Whittlesea Ministries Inc Foodshare, call 0407 348 599 for fresh fruit, vegetables and bread supplies available for collection at Whittlesea Uniting Church Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Sikh Community Connections, text 0476 850 607. Sikh Community Connections provides both free cooked vegetarian meals to those in the City of Whittlesea, delivered daily after 5pm, as well as free Indian groceries for international students and temporary residents facing hardship, with contactless pickup and delivery available. For more information visit sikhcc.org.au/emergency-food-relief.

United Minds Psychology’s open pantry at 2/20 Yellow Brick Rd, Doreen from Monday to Friday, 12 to 2pm, and Saturdays by arrangement. It also offers pet food, masks, clothing, second-hand goods and furniture and financial aid for grocery vouchers and education support. Call 8692 9949.

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