Australia is known as a land of plenty. There is no realistic danger of food shortage, supermarkets compete fiercely for our consumer dollar, and we have access to a mind-boggling array of healthy produce at affordable prices.
But the story is starkly different for First Australians living in rural communities, where low incomes, limited access to nutritious, affordable food, and poor food choices (due to lack of education) are severely compromising the health and well-being of families.
In Central NSW, sole mother-of-six Karen, was experiencing difficulties making ends meet and had neither the skills nor the money to provide a nutritious diet for her family.
“I was in a lot of debt and wasn’t handling my money properly,” says Karen, 45. “Feeding the kids was about what was easiest, not what is healthy.”
Karen’s situation was made more difficult by her community’s remoteness, and the limited number of places to buy food and groceries in the area. Unsurprisingly, prices at remote-based community shops are high due to freighting costs, and lack of local competition.
Without a car or regular transport to large town centres where prices are more reasonable, Karen was struggling to make her Centrelink payments stretch to pay for all the essentials, including food and rent. Like many, Karen became trapped in a cycle of borrowing and debt that impacted her family’s daily diet. “It was not difficult to access food,” says Karen. “But I’m ashamed to say that sometimes my family missed out on some meals.”
As she’d never been taught life-skills like money-management, Karen didn’t make the connection between good budgeting habits, good food, good health and a better (less stressful) life. So, two years ago when she enrolled in the Centacare Wilcannia-Forbes Manage Your Income, Manage Your Life Program, supported by Caritas Australia, a new world opened up to her.
Through a series of budgeting workshops and monthly budget planning sessions, combined with nutrition workshops and cooking activities, Karen gained the tools she needed to take control of her money, and budget so she could provide regular, healthy meals for her family.
“The workers [at Centacare] gave me the confidence that I can help myself with their support,” she says.
Centacare also introduced Karen to the Food Support Program, known as the Food Bank, where people on low incomes can buy food at reduced prices. This means budgets can stretch far enough to feed families, without the need to travel far from home. “Having access to the food [bank] saves money that can be spent on meat for the week,” says Karen.
Coupled with access to good food, Centacare is educating First Australians like Karen to make healthier, affordable food choices. A tour through a supermarket with a dietician taught Karen to read food labels, and introduced her to new foods that she could cook for her family. Cooking lessons gave her the skills and confidence to prepare meals she’d never made before. “I learnt how to make quiche,” says Karen. “My family loved it!”
Taking control of her finances, and learning a new range of life-skills has given Karen the ability and confidence to choose foods for a healthier life, that will lead to a better future for her family. And, she’s now volunteering in her community and sharing her knowledge with others.
“Now my kids eat healthy and they’re willing to try new foods,” Karen says. “I want them to be healthy and strong.”
Please donate to Project Compassion 2015 and help First Australians in remote communities gain the skills to make healthier food choices, building a better future for their families.