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Fears over food, online services access for vulnerable South Australians

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The elderly and people on disability or income support payments are at risk of being locked out from accessing food and government services amid coronavirus pandemonium, SA social justice groups have warned.

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It comes as Foodbank SA will meet with the Department for Human Services this afternoon to ask it to provide approximately $20,000 a week so that the organisation can pay volunteers and hire additional staff to cope with increased demand.

InDaily has received several letters from people on support payments who say they are unable to purchase essential food and hygiene products as their restricted mobility or income prevents them from battling crowds at supermarkets or affording the more expensive brands left on the shelves.

Coronavirus fears have prompted mass hoarding and panic buying across the country, leaving many supermarket shelves bare of products such as toilet paper and pantry staples.

The high demand prompted Coles to this week halt all online orders, while Woolworths stopped its click-and-collect service nationally.

Trudy Salmaso, a single mother on income support with two children, wrote to InDaily saying she had no food in her cupboards or in her freezer, as she was this week unable to purchase enough food to supply her family.

She said she normally preferred to purchase her groceries online due to mental health reasons, but was forced to go to a supermarket yesterday to face the crowds.

“When I got to Woolworths my mouth dropped in such shock – I was shocked there’s nothing on the shelves…. I came home I cried and cried,” she wrote.

“I feel like a failure (because) I couldn’t provide food for my kids because there was no food to buy, no toilet paper.

“I’m scared (that) my children are going to (be) starved because people with money went shopping (and) stockpiled food (and) toilet paper, milk while people like me – people with no money – really struggle every week just (to) provide for my children.

“Woolworths and Coles shut down the home delivery system but what they really should have shutdown was the actual shopping centres and put online delivery, that way everything can be shared equally… and you won’t have a person crying at 1:30 in the morning cos you can’t feed her kids because there’s no food in the shops.”

Premier Steven Marshall told FIVEaa radio this morning that South Australia had “the best food security in the world”.

“There is actually no need to be doing any unusual buying at the moment,” he said.

His comments were echoed by Foodbank SA CEO Greg Pattinson, who said the food charity had sufficient supplies to feed people in need.

But he said Foodbank, which provides 126,000 disadvantaged South Australians with free food each month, was yesterday forced to temporarily shut its food hub at Bowden after volunteers chose to stay at home amid coronavirus fears.

He said other food charities including Heart and Soul and the People’s Pantry had also shut after volunteers decided to stop work.


“That is placing a huge impact on our food hubs,” Pattinson said.

“The food hubs have gone mental – they’ve seen at least about a 30 per cent increase in the numbers of people coming in seeking food assistance, particularly those that have been referred to from other charities where they have traditionally got food from who aren’t now able to help.

“There’s a massive shortage of volunteers across the not-for-profit sector right now and we’re really asking people, if you’re sitting at home doing nothing, come volunteer with us.

“We will not close. We’ll find ways of managing the crisis and isolating agencies from our warehouse staff so that our warehouses can continue to operate.”

Pattinson said he would meet with representatives from the Department for Human Services this afternoon to ask the State Government to provide about $20,000 a week to Foodbank for paid staff in the event that the organisation loses too many volunteers to stay open.

It follows calls from the South Australian Council of Social Service for the State Government and private companies to pause debt collection and waive late payment fees “recognising that people will be experiencing an additional level of hardship at this point in time”.

SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley told InDaily the Government should also consider the ramifications of cutting face-to-face services in favour of online assistance for people who are not digitally literate or who do not own a computer.

“We know that many people are on fixed data amounts and if they are, in fact, having to use their data to interact increasingly with the human services that have been providing them with assistance then they’re going to run through those allowances very quickly,” he said.

“That’s going to create enormous hardship for them.

“The digital world is so important at this point in time and there’s no better illustration of it than the numbers of us that are trying to work from home or interact online increasingly as we struggle with the issues of trying to socially distance ourselves.

“But, for people who have limited means, limited capacity and literacy, and limited equipment, those things are going to be particularly challenging.”

Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said the Department for Human Services was working on a “broad coronavirus plan to support our workforce and, in turn, support our most vulnerable South Australians”.

She said all critical services would continue and service continuity was the Government’s priority “at this unprecedented time”.

“We always welcome feedback from community and volunteer organisations regarding the current challenges they may face and are committed to working with them to ensure they have the information and support they need,” she said.

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