Food insecure families in Mparntwe/Alice Springs will soon have access to cheap, culturally safe food relief thanks to a partnership between Foodbank SA and Aboriginal-led social enterprise Kere to Country.

There’s a huge need for more food relief in the Central Australian town; Foodbank reports that of the 25,000 residents of Mparntwe/Alice Springs, 5,000 are on some form of income management.

Local agencies that do food relief work buy food at local supermarkets and distribute it to people in need, but there’s a large gap between what those agencies can provide and the number of people needing help.

A food security report by the Northern Territory Government and the Alice Springs Local Council found that charities couldn’t cover the need in the area just by buying food from local supermarkets.

To fill that gap, Kere to Country and Foodbank South Australia are stepping in to create a Food Hub — a supermarket-like warehouse where food insecure families can access cheap, nutritious food at low prices while having a dignified shopping experience.

The Food Hub will allow Foodbank SA to distribute an additional 250,000 kilograms of food to families in need in the region in the first 12 months of operations alone — equivalent to an extra 500,000 meals.

Foodbank SA CEO Greg Pattinson says when Food Hub is operational in August, families referred to Foodbank by local charities, schools or community groups will be able to do a family food shop for around $20.

“Fruit, vegetables and bread are all free, and everything else is charged at around $2 a kilo. So it means that $20 will get them about $120 of retail value.”

Jessica Wishart is the CEO of Kere to Country and is the Project Manager of the Alice Springs Food Hub. Photo supplied.

Kere to Country specialises in providing bulk meat to families through a web ordering system, bringing the costs of meat down for remote communities.

Kere to Country founder and CEO Jessica Wishart first became concerned for food security while visiting Mparntwe/Alice Springs during the COVID-19 crisis and seeing first hand how inaccessible food was for people living in remote communities.

Though Wishart is from the Bidjara Nation in Queensland, Mparntwe/Alice Springs is her home and her children are Arrernte. She is also the Food Hub’s Project Manager.

Connections with a friend who farmed meat made Wishart realise there had to be a better way to get meat to families that need it, and the prevalence of chest freezers among families living in remote communities made bulk buying a viable option.

The bulk meat orders are more affordable for customers living in town in Mparntwe/Alice Springs, and less than half the price per kilo that customers in remote communities would normally pay. The bulk orders are intended to last a family up to eight weeks and can be paid off over five or six weeks, with costs able to be split among multiple family members.

The meat orders will be delivered to a large cool room at the new Food Hub, where families can pick their orders up once they’ve paid them off.

Foodbank’s partnership with Kere to Country is a dream come true for Wishart.

“I was ecstatic about working with Foodbank because it’s food security, and I know how much it’s needed in this community. This community is my home and it’s a really personal thing for me and my family,” she said.

Pattinson says Foodbank SA is also focusing on cultural safety.

“It’s very important to us that we understand the culture, or at least we respect the culture of the people that are going to be getting the food [at Food Hub],” he said.

“We’re very keen to make sure that it’s [culturally] appropriate for local Indigenous people, that they feel comfortable going there and that they’re not feeling as though they’re getting a handout. We want it to feel like it’s a supermarket and they’re going there to shop,” Pattinson said.

Wishart agrees.

“It’s important that the Food Hub is a place of safety for our First Nations people. If communities feel that they’ve been listened to, that they are welcomed and that we understand their needs they will use the Hub and their families will benefit,” she said.

The project will also free up other agencies that have been spending their funding on supplying food to families in need.

“The Women’s Safety Services see it as a positive; instead of having to pay for food from the supermarket, they’ll be able to get the food from Foodbank and then re-allocate the limited funds to be able to do the services that they do best, which is helping people escape domestic violence,” Pattinson said.

The Food Hub will be fully operational in Mparntwe/Alice Springs in August.

By Sarah Smit