With hundreds of families flocking to the Bulli Community Centre for help, its free food service is now open on a weekly basis.
The service, which began in April 2021, began on a fortnightly basis but is helping out dozens of families every week.
Organiser and support coordinator, Karen McIntyre says the pantry helps about 40 families a week and almost 1000 families have been helped over the past 18 months.
"We're seeing an increase in people needing our help because of job losses related to COVID ... the pandemic has also led to homelessness in many cases," Ms McIntyre said.
"As the cost of living rises, people can't afford the pantry staples.
"Some of our clients are sleeping in tents, caravans or cars," she said.
The food pantry provides fresh produce, bread and cakes, frozen meat, clothing and hygiene products.
Women leaving domestic violence are the many seeking assistance.
Single mum Jessica said she fled domestic violence in south-west NSW last year and moved back to the Illawarra.
"I was on a minimum income when I fled my ex," Jessica said.
"My two-year-old daughter and I lived in accommodation provided by SAHSSI, for 12 months and now we have a public housing home in Coniston.
"I visit the Bulli Community Centre every fortnight, for bread and veggies. My daughter gets biscuits and toys. I get to have a coffee and chat with people that don't judge my past and treat me as family," she added.
Jessica said the visits to the free pantry are important for her mental health and allow her daughter to explore and be socially engaged.
Karen McIntyre said the free food pantry is supported by OzHarvest, which supplies groceries from Woolies and Aldi. Donations from Coles come via SecondBite.
"The supermarkets freeze meat for us, before its use by date, we get cracked cartons of eggs and some random stuff," she said.
"At the moment we've got bucket loads of potatoes, which surprises me given their current cost per kilo."
"Maybe that's why we're getting them because no one can afford them."
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