An army of Western Sydney volunteers called Hunter Hampers is saving unsold food from going to landfill, and redistributing it throughout the community, for free.
On the front verandah of a welcoming family home in South Windsor, loaves of bread and bouquets of flowers stand ready; the former items to feed families, and the latter to bring smiles.
Chatter and activity can be heard inside, and as I'm invited in, I am amazed by the sight a parlour floor loaded with boxes of food, ready to be gifted to locals.
Rather than use phrases like "families in need", I prefer to say, "families whose rights to eat should be met". I can see quickly that my host Ailsa - and her part-time assistant Irene - view our fellow citizens in much the same light.
Hunter Hampers counts this two-woman power duo and their street team as its Hawkesbury branch.
Ailsa says she has been carrying out this important work for around a year, and now counts it as a fulltime occupation. For one day each week, Irene assists her. Both women carry out the Hunter Hampers work around their family commitments.
Irene says, "Some of the food goes towards helping with the cook-ups for Mountain of Joy, and Ailsa also takes food to the Carevan, Blacktown Youth, and One Meal. We do big cook-ups twice week, now. Ailsa does so much with Hunter Hampers now that it's like a full-time job for her. Every day, she's out doing something, picking up the food, making hampers... averaging about twenty hampers a week."
Ailsa picks up the food from Aldi and Coles stores, as well as from services as far away as Blacktown and the Hills. She does not receive government funding to do the work, and pays for her own petrol despite racking up enormous kilometres each week. Ailsa and Irene tell me that the work's rewards are twofold: rescuing food that would wastefully become landfill, and feeding hungry families.
Irene continues, "We've seen the reports on how much the food in supermarkets can be wasted. This is also addressing that problem. Families can know that they're not only getting some fresh food and snacks to feed to their kids; they're also stopping that cycle of wastage."
Hunter Hampers was founded by Donna Hunter who lives in Baulkham Hills but co-ordinates a broader team effort across greater Western Sydney. Liaison between volunteers and the community largely takes place on a private Facebook group, with volunteers forming working relationships with the retailers and other donors. Volunteers also get to know the citizens receiving the assistance, and this close personal contact means that they identify other needs which can be met via informal referral to nearby services.
Irene explains, "There is so much demand. We can't keep up, and it's really hard to say no. People come from a long way to get help. It's generally done on a 'first come, first served' basis."
Ailsa adds, "It's up to our discretion, as to who we give the box to. We keep a transparency list so that we know who has received something. If they've just received one last week, and someone else comes along who hasn't had one in a long time, they'll get it first. That kind of thing."
Irene says that all sorts of families need hampers.
She says, "It's all kinds of people, such as grandparents who might have their grandchildren in their care. They may not have an income, and might not have Centrelink benefits to care for their grandkids, because the paperwork hasn't gone through yet. There are also seniors who don't have any way to get to the shops, and heaps of single parents. There isn't a 'type' who needs help."
Ailsa adds, "You can never judge a book by its cover. Someone might come in a nice-looking car... but you can never tell."
"That's right," says Irene. "You just never know the whole story; someone might be having chemo or paying for a funeral. So we try not to judge. I think people judge themselves harder than anyone else judges them, and there are so many people in the same situation. There aren't any questions asked. You don't have to give your bank details or a reason why you are asking for help. No questions, no judgement. It's just available to anybody that needs it."
If you are in need of assistance with food and wish to ask Hunter Hampers about it, their best contact point is Facebook. Search for "Hunter Hampers" (the group) on Facebook.
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