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Green Madness: More Than 100,000 South Australians Seeking Food Donations, Forced To Skip Meals To Pay Electricity Bills

Liz Walsh, Sheradyn Holderhead, The Advertiser

More than 102,000 South Australians seek help from food charity Foodbank every month, as parents skip meals for days on end so children can eat and utility bills can be paid, astonishing figures show. New figures show more than 35,000 South Australian households cannot afford to pay their electricity bills.

About one quarter — or 26,877 — of those seeking food assistance are children.

The alarming figures have been released today in Foodbank’s 2017 Hunger Report, which also shows that demand from South Australians needing food has increased 21 per cent over the past 12 months, up from 84,847 last year and 56,000 the year before.

Foodbank SA chief executive Greg Pattinson said the high number of those needing assistance was staggering, but not surprising, because more and more SA families were being forced to make the heartbreaking decision to either “heat or eat”.

“We’ve heard it from so many people; the power bills come in and they have to decide: ‘Do we feed the kids today or do we not?’” he said.

New figures show more than 35,000 South Australian households cannot afford to pay their electricity bills and owe the nation’s highest average debt of $876.

Foodbank SA chief executive Greg Pattinson with Angelo Demasi, chief executive of the SA Produce Market.

“There are plenty of stories of people who come in wanting food because they haven’t eaten for three or four days because they just can’t keep up with the bills.”

Mr Pattinson said Foodbank — which distributes food through 550 local charities — had begun to hold temporary “pop-up” food banks every couple of months in an effort to keep up with unprecedented demand.

“We held one at Noarlunga a couple of weeks ago and close to 800 people went through in two hours and we gave away almost nine tonnes of food,” he said.

“One lady told me that she earned $1000 a month and had just received an electricity bill and simply couldn’t afford to eat for this month — and that’s only 10km south of the CBD.

“Anecdotally, we regularly see that kids are sent off to school and they are OK, but mum and dad don’t eat … one woman told me that she had only Vegemite sandwiches for the week.”

It’s a familiar story for “Kerrie” who was one of the 102,718 people turning to Foodbank last year. “I accessed food support for around six months,” she said. “I was in desperate need of help, with mounting bills and a son with a disability; I was struggling and started to fall into depression.

“We just couldn’t afford to put food on the table … it was hard because I just wanted the best for my son and I couldn’t give it to him at that time.”

But Kerrie said after accessing food through one of Foodbank’s agencies, she was able to get her life back on track.

Foodbank’s Hunger Report also detailed that 3.6 million Australians had experienced food insecurity at least once in the last 12 months, and almost half of those were employed.

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