Can you imagine having to make a 15km round trip on your bike to get fresh fruit and vegetables? It sounds like a story from another time – or another country.
This is what Amy*, a young woman who visited Vinnies’ inner-city Melbourne soup van service, felt she had to do so she wouldn’t go hungry.
Amy is one of the cohort of vulnerable people who were homed in hotels during the pandemic as part of a Victorian Government housing program. The government is now transitioning people out to permanent housing in the Homelessness to Homes program. Amy was assisted into accommodation in the western suburbs, but there was no fridge or other household items. After paying utility bills, she had little left over for food.
Vinnies Soup Van president Melissa Walton says, “Amy had a tough time during the pandemic, because she had to move hotels a number of times due to a relationship breakup. Vinnies was serving her with a weekly hamper of food for around a year during that time.
Making sure people receive enough fresh fruit and veg
“Along with all the people we served in the hotels, we always made sure Amy received lots of fresh fruit and vegetables to help with her nutrition. Amy is a happy person, even when you could tell she wasn’t in the best of health.”
Once she was rehomed in the western suburbs, Amy was put in touch with Vinnies services there, but she continued to visit the inner-city hub a number of times on her bike because of her link to the volunteers she knew – the ‘food and friendship’ offered by our soup van volunteers, the ‘Vannies’.
Melissa says, “We gave Amy anything we could find that would save her having to buy shopping herself, such as washing powder, cleaning products, tissues and toiletries.
Vinnies Vannies are ‘angels’
Amy would sometimes also visit the inner-city hub on foot having travelled on public transport with her drawstring shopping trolley.
“We’d send her home again with her shopper full of fresh fruit and vegetables, and other food for her cupboard, as well as frozen meals and sometimes clothes and blankets. Amy was fond of the frozen meals because they had meat in them and many people we assist can’t afford to buy meat. Amy called the Vannies ‘angels’ for sending her home with it all.”
Once properly connected with volunteers in Footscray, Vinnies helped Amy get set up in her new home, providing a bed, drawers, a dining suite, crockery, a microwave, vacuum cleaner, along with Telstra and Vinnies Shop vouchers – and an all-important fridge. “She had everything she needed in her new home, says one volunteer who visited Amy. “She said, ‘thank you, this is great’.”
Demand for food in Melbourne’s western suburbs has increased 143%
The Vinnies Soup Van service in Footscray is answering a growing need in the western suburbs, after demand increased 143% due to the pandemic. Two nights a week, Vannies hand out 200 rough sleeper packs with food that can be eaten straight away, and on four other nights, they distribute on average 350 hampers using contactless delivery, containing enough food to feed 600 people.
People stop our soup vans asking for food
Vinnies Footscray Soup Van president, Tracey Vo, says that two new vans, donated by the Woodards Foundation earlier this year, are now based with her service, which caters to Footscray, West Footscray, Maidstone, Braybrook, Sunshine and St Albans, due to the need. “Our vans are often stopped by people asking for food, so we always carry extra hampers,” she says.
Vinnies volunteers report that they are seeing a younger cohort of people using the service since the pandemic, particularly women and couples in their 20s and 30s. Amy certainly fits that bill and, as long as they are here, so is Vinnies.
*Amy’s name and image have been changed to protect her identity.