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SmartMeals Evolves to Provide Meals. Training. Jobs.

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Our original SmartMeals program was established in March 2020 as an emergency response to COVID-19, providing nutritious meals for people impacted by the COVID-19 economic and health crisis, while also keeping vulnerable hospitality workers in jobs. SmartMeals used the under-utilised capacity of local cafes, restaurants and food based social enterprises, devastated by the pandemic, to provide 111,000 ready-made meals for their local overstretched homeless and community groups. Many meals went to feed people, moved rapidly off the streets, accommodated in hotels and motels.

Introducing the evolution of SmartMeals – Meals. Training. Jobs.

All meals will now be made by social enterprises, meaning vital job training, readiness and pathways programs for vulnerable people in a difficult jobs market.

This new chapter of the program will ensure disadvantaged people have the opportunity to upskill and be job-ready for their future. While still providing meals for people at risk or experience homelessness.

Over the past few months, our research has found that food security remains a major challenge for many people who were previously experiencing poverty and homelessness, and a new cohort of people unexpectedly made unemployed through COVID-19. There are also still people accommodated in hotels and motels in need of support. Until a vaccine is rolled out, many community meals programs remain closed or have reduced capacity, so SmartMeals will continue to have an important role plugging the gaps in food relief systems.

Recent feedback from partners shows how important SmartMeals 2021 will be:

Micah Projects

“We could definitely do with support around producing emergency meals for Micah supported individuals and low-income community members. Since COVID struck there’s been a sharp increase in demand for meals and grocery support through our cafes and teams. We are now providing around 150-200 meals per week and don’t foresee demand dropping for these services anytime soon.”  Annette Gillespie. 

Bendigo Foodshare

“We would love to have your continued support. 2021 has started off with our food relief agencies across Central Victoria still reporting an increased demand of 30% on pre-covid levels (nearly 13,000 people across Central Victoria accessed food relief every week pre-covid). This increased demand is putting a strain on our services, which is even more difficult to manage with uncertainty around supply of food.” Bridget Bentley.

Plate It Forward

“Our on the ground team is reporting increases in job insecurity and unemployment, with people skipping meals. There is no way our operation can keep up with the current and continually rising demand. With JobKeeper ending soon we anticipate a spike in demand for those needing support.”  Shaun Christie-David.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)

“By the end of 2020, 97% of our Foodbank members had no access to income at all, which is a 15% cohort increase since pre-COVID-19 periods. In correlation, the ASRC has seen a spike of over 200% in requests for basic food supplies since the beginning of the pandemic. Food security remains a high priority for the ASRC. We are now providing over 1,100 food packs of perishable and non-perishable goods to around 1,200 families and individuals on a weekly basis.” Ursula De’Almeida.

From 8th March we have partnered with 11 social enterprises, in 5 states, supplying 3,730 SmartMeals per week.

Partnering With Social Enterprises To Rebuild

Last year was hugely damaging for the hospitality industry and the people who own, operate, manage and work in these businesses.  SmartMeals 2020 partnered with a mix of social enterprises and commercial cafes and restaurants, who were focused on employing vulnerable temporary visa holders. The impact of COVID-19 for food based social enterprises was devastating, as their business models were upended as corporate catering dried up and CBD cafes had to shut down. As the hospitality industry slowly opens up and rebuilds, the new focus of SmartMeals will be supporting social enterprises who need help to rebuild to make meals for vulnerable people.

This support will help strengthen the recovery of these enterprises and help underpin their trading. Importantly the SmartMeals partnerships will also enable them to continue to provide vital job training, readiness and pathways programs for vulnerable people in a difficult jobs market. We know that vulnerable groups, such as young people and migrants/refugees, have been disproportionately impacted by this crisis. For example, youth unemployment is at 14.8% in Victoria, rising to 35% in certain suburbs. Young people between 20-24yo lost more full-time jobs than any other age group and researchers say that reverberations could last decades.

As Jarrod from Kinfolk explained the support from SmartMeals will be an important part of the rebuilding.

“Income in the most recent 6-month period (ending January 2021) is 38% down on the same period a year earlier. Once additional COVID specific grants are removed income is down 48%.  Obviously, this decline is not sustainable, and we have had to make changes to our business model to rebound.  We have offered our CBD café space back to the landlord as we cannot see that being viable in the next 12 months and will focus efforts on our other cafe.

Our relief meal program, part funded by SmartMeals, will help to provide employment for 6 people, as well as creating volunteer opportunities for people with diverse needs looking for employment experience and training.  Our training program has recently resumed and it is so great to see people back, learning skills, connecting and building their confidence serving customers. We have a number of community partners that are keen to receive meals including:  The Big Issue, InTouch and Fitzroy Learning Network, among others.”

Ursula from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said that…

We are a social enterprise that exists to create pathways to employment and economic empowerment for people seeking asylum. Since COVID this business has been heavily impacted. At the same time, our community members have been also severely impacted by the pandemic losing work opportunities and other support services. The partnership with the SmartMeals program will enable us to offer our members ready-made, culturally appropriate meals while continuing the business to help provide employment and experience to our members.”

SmartMeals 2021 Social Enterprise Partnerships:

SmartMeals Partner State
ASRC Catering VIC
Bendigo Food Share VIC
Darcy Street Project NSW
Common Ground Project VIC
Food 4 Futures SA
Kinfolk VIC
Loaves and Fishes TAS
Hope St Café QLD
Parliament on King NSW
Plate It Forward NSW
The Little Social – Youth Projects VIC

Help Keep SmartMeals Cooking

We need community support to keep the SmartMeals program going. To find out more please contact Geoff Hills, Chief of Fundraising and Operations on 0428 909 097.