After my partner was made redundant and the payout money ran out, he had intermittent casual or part-time employment and periods of unemployment.
We made the choice that I’d stay studying full time, as I was six months into a three-year degree. Our theory was that speeding up the process to become financially stable again was “short term pain for long term gain” – two years in total.
The school our children attended regularly provided Foodshare boxes to around 20 families within the school community; information I was privy to as school board president.
The principle and vice-principle were aware of our increasing struggle to make ends meet. We had to pay school fees at the last possible date and often needed to arrange payment plans. The children’s uniforms remained the same size as they grew, and they accessed the free fruit in the bowl more and more, occasionally needing a frozen sandwich from the school’s supply if we didn’t have enough for lunch boxes.
It was humiliating, and I felt ashamed. When the school first suggested we receive regular foodshare boxes. I felt uncomfortable, even though I would never shame someone else for receiving a foodshare box. It just wasn’t supposed to be my family who needed it.
To my surprise, I learned that many of the other families receiving foodshare boxes were not uneducated, or unemployed – just struggling on low incomes. “Vulnerable families” come in all shapes and sizes. I had made assumptions about who would be receiving help…wrong ones.
We received a foodshare box on a fortnightly basis for 18 months to two years, which allowed us to rest assured that there would be staples in the cupboard. We really valued the fresh food that was often included, like eggs, cheese, and veggies.
It took away some of the despair you feel when a note comes home about an excursion, and it’s a choice between having enough food or petrol in the car for the week or sending your child on the excursion.
I learnt that receiving help can be hard and embarrassing, especially when you need it. My feelings are not unique. Many families arranged box collection times when there would be no-one around to see them. I chose to collect our box in peak times often to try and smash the stereotype.
I remained school board president through this period, attending meetings where the figure of families receiving help would be tabled knowing my family was now included in that statistic.
It’s essential to realise all walks of life need food relief sometimes. I often heard horrible comments about “people on welfare”. Little did they know they were insulting me directly. We need to be kind to each other.
Bendigo Foodshare is one of our community’s most vital illness prevention services both physically and mentally.