Planting the seed
The history of organised food relief in Victoria dates back to the 1930s when the State Relief Committee was formed to aid Victorians in need during the Great Depression.
Food relief assists people of all ages and backgrounds – men, women, children, older adults, students and families – who are experiencing food insecurity.
During the early days, the newly formed committee visited country areas to provide goods and food and support regional organisations established as local aid collection and distribution points.
From town ball fundraisers, jam-making drives and thriving social auxiliary groups to local farmers scouring their orchards to donate excess fruit, country areas have always looked after their own.
Through depression, floods, bushfires and massive societal shifts, organised food relief has existed in Victoria for over 90 years as a safety net for those experiencing disaster and short- or long-term food insecurity.
By 2006, the need for a local Bendigo-based food relief entity was clear. Foodbank Victoria (formerly VicRelief/State Relief Committee) supported the Peter Harcourt Disability Centre in establishing a local Foodshare arrangement.
In 2008, UnitingCare Bendigo was deemed a more suitable custodian of the arrangement with Foodbank Victoria, with support from the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul Society. As a result, the local Foodshare moved to the old Gillies factory on Garsed Street.
Over the next three years, UnitingCare Bendigo continued to oversee and run operations. In February 2011, an additional partnership agreement between Foodbank Victoria and UnitingCare Bendigo saw a new Foodbank warehouse in Havilah Road open and, with this, the renaming of the entity to Bendigo Foodshare.
The warehouse at Havilah Road was officially opened in a ceremony on 2 September 2011 by the Premier, Ted Baillieu, and the Victorian Community Services Minister, the Hon. Mary Wooldridge.
Foodbank Victoria supplied freezers, fridges and shelving for the warehouse and would freight food and materials from Melbourne to Bendigo weekly. Local agencies would then access and deliver food to the local community through emergency relief programs. A handful of volunteers kept the organisation running.
In 2012, Bendigo UnitingCare realised that Bendigo Foodshare didn’t align with the core focus of operations and began work with the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society, St Luke’s Anglicare and the Bendigo Sustainability Group to create an independent Foodshare organisation.
The five founding agencies laid the groundwork to establish a community-owned, self-sufficient, and autonomous Bendigo Foodshare – planting a seed in the hope that such an organisation would grow deep roots within Bendigo with nurturing and support.
The purpose of Bendigo Foodshare would be to access food locally via rescued, donated and purchased sources to feed local people through distribution to relief agencies, community groups and schools. A further aim was to reduce local food waste, positively impact CO2 levels in landfills, and reduce water waste.
Within Bendigo UnitingCare, two members – Peter Goffin and Dean Shirley – were actively involved in the strategic and operational workings of Foodshare. 10 years on, they reflected on how the transition period from UnitingCare/Foodbank Victoria to Bendigo Foodshare standing on its own was a time of great promise and hope.
The inaugural meeting of Bendigo Foodshare took place on 30 January 2013, and the first Board was appointed on 6 February 2013, including Anna Howard (Chair), Dean Shirley (Deputy Chair), Dean Murphy (Treasurer), Sharon Crimmins (Secretary), Peter Goffin, Len Hiscock and Jennifer Alden.
Bendigo Foodshare was officially established as an independent charity on 11 April 2013, and by 1 July 2013, the new entity commenced the financial year officially independent of UnitingCare and Foodbank Victoria.
In 2013, Bendigo Foodshare supplied 417,000kg of food to 15 emergency relief agencies and five schools. By June 2014, food had increased significantly supporting 20 emergency relief agencies, 34 schools and 16 community meals programs.