FareShare meals meet growing need for food relief in Melbourne’s northwest

The queue of cars backed up to the street illustrates the current demand for emergency food relief at Helping Hands Airport West, one of the hundreds of charities that hand out FareShare meals to people doing it tough.

When Helping Hands first opened, a handful of people would stop by. Pre-Covid, they were helping around 40-50 people. Now they’re helping 70 people a day, many of them families.

“The demand is getting way more rapid,” says Helping Hands Manager Adam Volpato. “We’re getting people from Geelong. One guy gets a bus, tram and train from Dandenong way somewhere.”

Around five years ago, Adam Volpato quit his corporate job at Australia Post to do something more meaningful. He has absolutely no regrets, especially when he sees the positive impact Helping Hands has on the local community. 

“If someone turns up and says, ‘I’m in trouble’, they always walk away from here better off than when they got here, and that’s more rewarding than a six figure pay packet, I can tell you.”

Lately, Adam has noticed a shift in the types of people seeking food assistance.

“Pre-Covid, we helped the unemployed, single parents, people in that lower socio-economic bracket. Now, we have people who have never had to ask for help before. They were working and comfortable. But now they’re in a position where they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

FareShare's Agency Liaison Officer Sam Dixon chats with Helping Hands Manager Adam Volpato in front of their emergency food pantry.

“If someone turns up and says, ‘I’m in trouble’, they always walk away from here better off than when they got here, and that’s more rewarding than a six figure pay packet, I can tell you.”

Helping Hands volunteers sort and pack fresh produce for the emergency food pantry.

“I had a schoolteacher who came in crying. She didn’t want to ask for help, she was too embarrassed. I had to tell her ‘It’s okay, that’s why we exist’.”

Another person who falls into this camp is mother-of-two Jennifer. Her husband lost his job during Covid. As a result, the family lost their house and are now living with relatives.

“It’s hard. We’d just had our first child when we had to move out… We were pretty much set. My husband had a great job. We were living on cloud nine with our new family. Then the next thing you know we were losing our house!”

Jennifer’s second child was born during this stressful period. She said she wouldn’t have been able to cope if not for the generosity of Helping Hands Airport West and their food providers like FareShare.

"We were pretty much set. My husband had a great job. We were living on cloud nine with our new family. Then the next thing you know we were losing our house!”

Another regular attendee at the Helping Hands food pantry is Maria. She has had many FareShare meals and thinks they’re great. In fact, she asked if there was any way she’d be able to buy our meals.

“I cut your meals in half for my elderly mother, which means she gets two meals out of it. Well, sometimes I eat the other half [laughs]. They’re just ideal for an elderly person because of their size and their texture.”

Not only does Helping Hands Airport West help people like Jennifer and Maria with food, they also run an op shop, a material aid program that helps furnish people’s houses for free, and a Christmas Cave/Birthday Cupboard where parents can get free gifts for their children during the festive season or when it’s their birthday.

Winnie poses in the Helping Hands Christmas Cave, which she runs.

After Jennifer finishes speaking with us, Adam tells her about the Christmas Cave. Her eyes light up and she gets emotional knowing her children will have presents under the tree. She thanks him profusely and heads over there.

“I just love working here,” Adam gushes. “I could talk all day about it. But yeah, we really appreciate all the support FareShare gives us. Thank you.” 

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