Foodbank NSW fields record demand for help to put food on table

Australia's largest food relief charity will deliver 1.6 million meals this Christmas - 10 per cent more than last year - as demand for grocery assistance reaches a record high.

''The first week of December was the busiest week we've ever had,'' says Gerry Andersen, chief executive of Foodbank NSW.

Low-income and single-parent families are struggling to put food on their tables, he said, with the majority distributed to western Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle and rural NSW.

''We've made more than 12,000 Christmas hampers,'' he says. ''There are a lot of people who are suffering. Everyone is feeling the pinch.''

Mr Andersen says rising rent, electricity and fuel costs are forcing almost 700,000 people in NSW to rely on food assistance each year.

At Enmore's Food Shed, one of Foodbank's 556 frontline services, more than 50 people visit each week to collect $7 bags filled with fresh produce, bread and soft drink.

For Rebecca Preston, the inner west shop has provided her family with a regular food supply and a free Christmas hamper - stocked with cake, leg ham, pudding, rice and custard - that she will serve on Christmas day at her Marrickville home.

''Since coming here I haven't had to spend a lot of money at the big supermarkets and don't need help with bills,'' she says. ''When my grandkids want to go out, I've had the money to take them.

''I wouldn't have been able to hold Christmas this year without it.

''In the past, it has been really hard to provide.''

Reverend Cain Pennell, who runs Food Shed from a back room at the Church of the Nazarene, said about 100 people visited the shop last Friday - a record number since it opened in July.

''We're only open once a week, any more and I think we'd struggle to source enough food,'' he says.

''I honestly didn't think we'd see this many people coming through for at least two years. People travel all the way from Burwood. There are so many people that need it.''

Foodbank expects to deliver 7.2 million meals this year, 1.5 million more than in 2012.

In the past two weeks, the charity has distributed 250,000 kilograms of rescued food - mostly blemished fruit, vegetables and discontinued products - to NSW charities, up 30 per cent on last year.

Data from industry research group IBISWorld predicts Australians will spend $10.6 billion on food this Christmas and more than $3 billion on liquor and eating out.

''We are encouraging people to be more selective in what they buy,'' says Jon Dee, founder of environment action group Do Something.

He said meal planning and using leftovers would help reduce the $8 billion Australians waste on food each year.

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