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On Friday 17th January 2020, Australian Organic visited Foodbank Queensland to learn more about their charity operation and volunteered their time to pack food hampers for those in need.

Foodbank’s Queensland warehouse is located in Morningside, Brisbane, and is the smallest of Foodbank’s Australian warehouses in terms of size but the largest in terms of operation in the country – providing food relief to 249,412 people each month.

Foodbank partners with a large network of frontline charities to organise and distribute food to those that need it most. Benita Tiernan, Community Development Manager at Foodbank’s Queensland central warehouse, describes the operational structure as, “the Costco of the charity sector”, and aptly so.

The organisation has witnessed the effects of long-term drought in Queensland and have been providing drought relief for a number of years. Benita admits, “Initially some charities were reluctant to accept food relief; they wanted to cope on their own and didn’t want to impact local businesses by accepting it.”

This is why frontline charities are paramount to Foodbank’s operations. Charities communicate the needs of people in affected areas; they determine which items are needed most and distribute products that are in short supply and/or in high demand. For example, certain food groups such as baby food might be needed in certain areas more than others, which is why it’s incredibly important for charities to communicate with Foodbank to ensure the right support is sent to the right locations. Both Foodbank Queensland and their partner charities work together to ensure local businesses remain a crucial part of local communities.

Larger / more distant charities organise to collect their items from the Foodbank Queensland warehouse with their own trucks. These charities place orders with Foodbank, who then pick and pack products onto pallets in their warehouse ready for collection. Local charities visit the warehouse in person to select what they need and take donations with them.

Foodbank use their own trucks to collect donations when needed. A large amount of produce is picked up fresh on a daily basis and taken directly to the warehouse to be stored ready for collection. The warehouse receives over 10,000 freshly baked loaves of bread a week – delivered fresh and warm every morning as excess from large bakeries, who overbake to produce bread to batch size for efficiency.

Foodbank also runs a key staples program, where staples such as pasta, rice, pasta sauce, simmer sauces etc. are purchased by Foodbank as part of a collective supplier agreement. This allows Foodbank to source in-demand staples (staples that aren’t donated in enough quantities) for as little as possible. For some of these items, Foodbank charge a handling fee to cover costs, however most items are provided to charities free of charge. The staples program makes up around one million kilos in the Queensland warehouse and the other 11 million kilos of products are donated. You may be surprised to hear that although Foodbank does accept items that are close to their best-before date, with labelling errors, or mildly damaged goods, most of the items are good as new.

Foodbank Queensland are proud supporters of school breakfast programs, with around 300 schools supported by the organisation across the state. 35 of Foodbank’s 250 Queensland charities help with the school program to assist local schools. The YMCA supports over 100 local schools in their breakfast program and are provided with breakfast staples by the pallet-load from Foodbank to support a whole term’s worth of school breakfasts.

School breakfast clubs are often run by volunteers or ‘chappies’ a few days each week, however demand is sometimes so high that the clubs run every day of the week. School breakfasts are not only associated with good concentration and positive behaviour, they provide kids with social interaction and social connection which they may not receive at home.

Foodbank Queensland also partners with FareShare, a charity which utilises surplus food and cooks free, nutritious meals for people who need it most. FareShare have been in Queensland since October 2018 and have the largest purpose-built charity kitchen in Australia, designed to cook 5 million meals per year. Originally from Melbourne, FareShare moved to Queensland to meet the increasing demand for free meals and they now cook around 12,000 meals each day between their two locations. Foodbank Queensland provides FareShare with donated produce to cook into delicious meals which are then vacuum-packed, frozen and sent back to Foodbank for distribution. FareShare meals are distributed for free by Foodbank Queensland, through their network of over 250 front-line Queensland agencies, to those in need, including the homeless, women’s refuges, community meals programs, families and individuals in crisis, and vulnerable pensioners.

Food insecurity affects all types of Australians – from families to single adults, children to the elderly. Food insecurity is an increasing issue in Queensland, with more and more Queenslanders seeking food relief from charities each year.

To find out how you can offer your support to Foodbank Queensland, visit their website.