In 2020, the Tasmanian Government undertook a project to produce an internal point-in-time Geospatial Map of Emergency Food Relief services in Tasmania, based on a survey of known food relief providers. A Reference Group of internal and external stakeholders supported the project. The purpose of this work was to increase knowledge of food relief provision, demand and service gaps to inform Government decision making.
The project commenced shortly before COVID-19 and was then modified to accommodate the impacts of the initial few months of the crisis. While data on the true impacts of the pandemic were limited at the time, the project identified a number of pressure points and issues for further interrogation. Key findings included:
- The complexity of the range of stakeholders, systems and determinants involved in the food relief system;
- The number of providers purchasing food from local supermarkets;
- The breadth of food relief offered by some schools;
- Potential food ‘deserts’ (where there is a lack of food relief providers in one geographical area) or ‘clusters’ (a density of food relief providers in one geographic location); and
- The potential to harness efforts for collaboration and coordination in order to meet the needs of Tasmanians in vulnerable circumstances, both in providing food relief, and in increasing food resilience in the long-term.
The level of need for food relief was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments across the world closed borders and instituted necessary restrictions to protect the health and safety of their communities.
For Tasmanians, this led to an increased need for food relief as many Tasmanians lost income due to employment changes such as businesses closing, or not being able to access food via their usual means.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the declaration of a State of Emergency from May to December 2020, two major food distributors and three food relief providers received additional funding from the Tasmanian Government to supply food relief during COVID-19.
The Tasmanian Government also delivered an open, competitive small grants program for local emergency food relief organisations, with grants of up to $10 000 to provide hampers or ready to eat meals for their communities.
An Emergency Food Relief COVID-19 Response Group was established by the Tasmanian Government, comprising Government and non-government stakeholders. Members of this group have continued to inform the development of this Strategy.
While the pandemic put pressure on the State’s food relief system, anecdotal evidence and survey responses from the Emergency Food Relief Geospatial Mapping project indicated that COVID-19 presented opportunities for innovation to improve systems for food relief delivery and better understand demand and supply in Tasmania, including emerging areas of need. There was also increased interest in supporting local providers and suppliers to mitigate food insecurity.
During COVID-19, many organisations continued to support clients with long-term reliance on food relief, as well as support new clients impacted by COVID-19. There was a shared desire amongst a number of food relief stakeholders to go beyond providing food, to preventing food insecurity. For example, finding ways to address the key drivers of long-term need for food relief, such as geographical isolation, employment and financial and food literacy.