“Mummy, why do I not have a fresh apple in my lunch box like all the others?”
For some, it's no longer a matter of choice but a matter of survival – every coin must be accounted for, and every expenditure is weighed twice over. It’s a daily struggle to maintain a semblance of comfort and dignity. The cries for help are echoed in the 88% of people calling our call centre in Box Hill, all in dire need of a fundamental necessity - food.
They are Victorians like Miriam*. Miriam fled her country of origin due to conflict, violence and persecution, arriving in Australia in late 2021 with her husband and two small children. After facing several months of unemployment, her husband finally found work as a labourer in a local factory. However, his salary hardly covers their rent and utilities – not to mention food. Miriam and her husband have two little daughters (two and four) who they need to feed and keep healthy in their prime phase of physical growth and development.
Miriam and her husband look forward to welcoming a new baby in the next few months. But Miriam is also worried. She developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy. This means her body doesn’t produce enough insulin. She also has high blood pressure.
Her doctor prescribed medications to balance her insulin and blood pressure. But for Miriam, the choice between buying her prescribed medications and providing fresh, nourishing food for her children is an agonising one. There is not enough money for both. Her love and concern for her family often led her to prioritise their needs over her own.
“I often couldn’t go to sleep,” Miriam recalls. “It broke my heart when my children came home and asked me: ‘Mummy, why do I not have a fresh apple in my lunch box like all the others?’ Or ‘Mummy, why do I have so little in my lunch box and others so much? I need more.’”
Luckily, Miriam was introduced to the Vinnies Berwick mobile pantry by another woman in a local supermarket who noticed that Miriam had to put food back at the cash register because she did not have enough money to pay for it. At first, Miriam could not believe someone would give her and her family food for free.
“Vinnies mobile pantry is a gift from heaven,” Miriam says and smiles shyly. She is grateful for the service, the hundreds of generous people who give money to make it possible, and the volunteers who have all changed her life.
Why? For Miriam, the pantry means that she can stock up on staples like rice and oil – oil, in particular, is an essential item in Afghan cuisine – and canned items like beans or tuna that are high in protein. A visit to the mobile pantry ensures she can feed her girls and husband for four to five days. With the money saved, she can buy fresh produce that is a luxury for her – that little special, yet so needed extra for her, her unborn baby and her kids’ health. With hygiene items, etc., that she also needs provided, Miriam is also more likely to buy her medications.
“Before I came to the mobile pantry, every day, I was so worried about my children’s health. I knew the next day I would not have enough food, and they would ask for more. Now, I don’t lay in bed awake. I can sleep better. Thank you to everyone who gives generously. Thank you, Vinnies.”
It is also a way for Miriam to learn more about food used in her adopted country, Australia. Miriam had no idea what pasta was so the volunteers explained to her how to cook with pasta and what she could serve with it.
“We never had pasta where I grew up. I did not know what it was or how to cook it. Now it is one of our favourite meals. My kids love it, and they know that we have the same as their friends’ families. That makes me happy and smile.”
Vinnies makes a difference in many Victorian’s lives and as Miriam says: “Without the mobile pantry, our days were sad and grey. Now, they are bright, and the volunteers always make me smile – even on a grey and rainy day. When my kids see my bags of food, it is like Christmas for them. We all laugh and are happy.”
*Name changed for privacy reasons