The manager of a Horsham emergency food centre says calls for help in the community have returned to pre-COVID levels and expects the situation to worsen in the coming months.
During the past two years, the Horsham Christian Emergency Food Centre saw a drop in the number of assistance requests coming through as COVID-era government support was increased.
However food centre client assessment manager Bev Miatke said with programs such as coronavirus supplement being cut down, and the cost of living increasing across the board, many in the community were struggling to make ends meet.
"It is a scary time for people at the moment, everything is going up. Interest rates are going up, petrol, utilities. It is such a scary world for people on limited incomes," she said.
"During the two years of COVID our numbers dropped, and it seemed to bounce back after. We are expecting it to go higher, I just don't think people will have a choice as the prices of fruit, vegetables and household items climb up."
This comes as new research from Monash University has revealed that one in five young Australians has experienced food insecurity in the past two years.
The report, authored by Dr Cathy Waite at the university's Centre for Youth Policy and Education Practice, looked at food insecurity in modern Australia.
Among its key findings, the report found that Aboriginal and Torres Island people, as well as people with disabilities, were more likely to experience food insecurity.
More than 75 per cent of those who experienced food insecurity also experienced financial difficulties, and more than 35 per cent were out of work but looking for a job.
Ms Miatke said her experience at the emergency food centre backed the findings, with many who look for food relief also struggling to balance other necessities such as fuel and utility bills.
"You can do without lettuce if you have to - but there are some things you cant do without," she said.
"Especially if you have children, you have to get baby formula and nappies. There are things that you have to have and it gets to a point where you just can't get those things you absolutely have to have.
"Once the full cost of living prices takes effect they will have no choice but to come."
Ms Miatke said the centre had also seen an increase in the number of first-time visitors looking for assistance.
"People try to do the best they can without asking for help. Change the brand they use, minimize spending, and not go out," she said.
"They will do anything but ask for help. But there comes a time when they run out of options and it is hard for people to ask for help.
"They might not be time and time again, but they might drop in on occasion, doing all that they can because they don't want to ask."
Beyond providing food assistance, the Horsham Christian Emergency Food Centre can also help with other costs of living depending on individual situations.
Ms Miatke said the centre also accepts a variety of donations, and asked those with more to dig deep.
"Just today, we got a very generous donation from a lady who was extremely concerned about elderly people with the electricity bills and getting cold," she said.
"We get things like knitted blankets, beanies and scarves. They give them to us and we can hand them out.
"We don't waste anything in the community. If people love to knit, they give it to us so we can hand it out to people - we try to make use of people's passions. They often want to make things and give them away, and they use us to do that."
Anyone seeking the Christian Emergency Food Centre's support can contact them via phone on (03) 5381 2311 to arrange an in-person appointment.
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