Govt to axe meals for struggling local families

Filling a gap: Berkeley mother Kristy feeds two of her children at the community centre. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Filling a gap: Berkeley mother Kristy feeds two of her children at the community centre. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Kristy, a mother of seven, delivers spoonfuls of spaghetti into the opening of the pram that carries her youngest child, a visitor to Warrawong Community Centre's free hot lunch.

The girl was born on Father's Day in 2012, only a short while after her dad, Kristy's partner, was killed in a motorbike accident.

Since then, Kristy has been coming to the centre for meals - especially on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, when the family's Centrelink money starts to run out and food becomes more difficult to afford.

During school holidays, she brings all seven children.

"There's a lot of people that do run low on food," said Kristy, of Berkeley.

"They [Centrelink] don't pay you enough. Healthy food is a lot more expensive. We eat sausages, chops and vegies. I can't do the big salads and everything they've got here."

Kristy is concerned that a dwindling funding supply will soon close the lunch service.

Family and Community Services finances the current operation at a cost of about $80,000 a year, but a three-year funding agreement will conclude in June, and the service's operators have been told to find a corporate backer to fund $40,000 under a new dollar-for-dollar arrangement.

Manager of Warrawong Residents Forum Maxine Graham, who oversees the lunch service, was in talks with BlueScope, and had applied to area clubs that provide funding for community groups.

"We have been told we need to look for corporate funding.

"I think the state government should fund it. It's an essential service," she said.

Ms Graham has noticed increasing numbers of recently unemployed visiting the lunches.

"Their Newstart's not even covering their rent," she said.

The centre's Housing Community Program co-ordinator, Phoenix Van Dyke, spoke of the service's troubles in a submission to the state's recent public housing inquiry, noting the link between lack of affordable housing and food insecurity.

"Many of the people who come to these lunches tell us that this is the only meal they will have for the day, especially during the days leading up to their next Centrelink payment," Ms Van Dyke told the inquiry in Wollongong on Thursday.

"The other day, I was standing outside the centre when a woman arrived with a baby in a pram, a toddler and a young boy. The boy yelled out to me, 'we are going to have lunch!' and ran up the steps so fast he stumbled and fell.

"The excitement in his voice was such that he might as well have called out, 'Santa is coming!"'

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