Millions of tonnes of food are wasted each year in Australia, and yet many struggle to afford to eat. In the second teaser from KYD issue 25, Sarah Coles meets those seeking to change the ways we think about feeding our communities.
When I ask Patrick Lawrence what he did before becoming the Director of Humanitarian Services at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), his answer floors me: ‘Classical piano.’ I was expecting ‘Masters in International Development’ or ‘Engineers Without Borders’.
Ten years ago Patrick returned to Melbourne after completing a masters degree in classical piano at the University of Cincinnati.
‘I still wanted to make music but I found out about this place in St Kilda that was detoxing people off heroin on mattresses on the floor and they needed volunteers. I thought, “Well, if I don’t go today, I’ll never go.”’
He still works one day a week at First Step in St Kilda and plays organ in church on Sundays. At this point it occurs to me that I am lunching with a saint.
Australia’s largest asylum seeker organisation was established by then-social-work lecturer Kon Karapanagiotidis in 2001 and is now based out of a massive building in Footscray, Melbourne. What was once a call centre is now chickpeas and benevolence. The Community Meals Program is cranking, the lunch queue winds around the outside of the members’ area and people are shopping in the Foodbank.
The 1500 members of the ASRC can visit the Foodbank once a week and choose what they want from tall rows of shelves stacked with tinned tomatoes, grains, tuna, pasta and toiletries, and an adjoining room full of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Patrick explains where the food comes from. ‘About a third we purchase ourselves. About a third comes from what we call our Food Action Network, which is an unofficial affiliation of schools, places of worship, individuals, families, work places who collect food. And the other piece of the pie is the food rescue organisations that have been supporting us for a very long time: FareShare, SecondBite, Foodbank Victoria and more recently, OzHarvest.’
A local fishmonger donates about thirty kilograms a week and I meet a volunteer who donates chestnuts from his farm every season.
According to the Department of Border Protection, as of March 2015 there were 27,216 asylum seekers holding a Bridging Visa E (BVE). People on BVEs are not eligible for welfare payments and a large number are denied the right to work. Almost half of the members of the Foodbank receive no welfare payments and those that do, receive just over $200 a week. With no income, or no work, or both, the majority of asylum seekers find it impossible to survive.
See Sarah discuss her piece in the trailer for KYD No.25.