Regional And Ravenous: Where Hunger Hits Hardest

ten daily we went to regional NSW to better understand why an increasing number of rural Australians are struggling to afford regular meals.

It's a crisp Thursday morning and the clock strikes 10am in the slow, central-western town of Parkes.

Rhonda Livingston opens the door of Georgie's Pantry --  a community food store, where once a week locals can take as much produce and food as they need for a small, flat fee of $25.

If they don't have the money, they can arrange to pay it at a later date.

"They've been waiting outside for ages, each week there's more people lining up," Livingston said.

Locals rush in. All of a sudden the usual Parkes pace (it's a town best-known for it's annual Elvis festival and famed CSIRO telescope 'the dish') gains considerable speed.

It's here ten daily met Beverly Ann Johnson, whose lived in Parkes for 20 years.

Georgie's Pantry in Parkes, NSW is a regional food relief community pantry. IMAGE: Antoinette Lattouf

"I'm a pensioner and it's very difficult to make ends meet most of the time," she said, a little uncomfortably.

"This pantry does help a lot of pensioners and a lot of people who can't afford normal supermarket prices."

The community pantry is run by Anglicare, with the support of food relief agency Foodbank as well as donations (or 'rescued' food) from ALDI, Woolworths and individuals.

"I'm relying on a couple of small meals a day, that's all I can afford at the moment," she said, avoiding eye contact.

READ MORE: The Stockbroker Turned Robin Hood Of Food, Feeding Australia's Hungry

Livingstone, who is one of a handful of shop assistant volunteers, is more forthcoming.

"People are embarrassed because they don't feel like coming in and I say 'don't feel embarrassed, you're not on your own there's plenty of people that use it' and they say 'oh we don't like to do that,'" she said.

She says pensioners, single mums and low-income families are her most common customers -- and there's a growing demand for food relief.

"It definitely has [increased], I don't know why, I cant put  my finger on it... nearly every week we've go new members."

IMAGE: Antoinette Lattouf

Perhaps, she is perplexed because the town of 11 000 actually has a decreasing unemployment rate -- it's down to about 3.8 percent.

Nationally,  the unemployment rate has nudged up to 5.6 percent. 

An individual or family is considered 'food insecure' if they answer yes to the following question: In the past 12 months, were there any times that you ran out of food and couldn’t afford to buy any more?

READ MORE: 'My Name is Tjae And I Go To School Hungry'

READ MORE: Going Hungry For A Degree: Meet The 20-Year-Old Who Survives On Pasta And Potatoes

Aussies living in regional and remote areas are far more likely to answer yes -- and it's set to get worse.

Agronomist Keith Woodlands donates dozens of organic eggs to Georgie's Pantry each week and it's costing him more to produce them.

Keith Woodlands donates eggs to help feed local farmers and families. IMAGE: Antoinette Lattouf

"I've been buying some bran and pollard to feed to my chooks and that has almost doubled in price now to what it was six months ago," Woodlands said.

He says grocery prices are yet to feel the full brunt of the recent drought.

"We'll see further increases in prices of meat products in particular over the next few months because there's less numbers of stock coming onto the market because they can't be fattened for meat production," he said.

So while Georgie's pantry ordinarily gets a healthy injection of less-than-perfect produce donated by local farmers, the charity is now increasingly supporting them.

"We have just got our hampers in full of our goodies there's also hampers that have bathroom accessories and all of that in it and they are going straight to the farmers," Livingston said.

Contact the authors alattouf@networkten.com.au and tdenny@networkten.com.au

Featured Image: Antoinette Lattouf 

If you want to help rescue , donate or deliver food to those battling food insecurity contact food relief agencies Foodbank or OzHarvest.