In April 2018, Judy Vizzari interviewed Ian Hemming, the President of Diamond Valley FoodShare. Diamond Valley FoodShare is a voluntary organisation based in Greensborough which provides free food to people who need it. Their motto is “local people helping local people“.
Guy Palmer and I are visiting Ian Hemming, the FoodShare’s President – Guy to gather information for their listing in the Local Food Directory and me on a mission to find out more about the organisation, of which I know only a little.
We arrive at the Council-owned Senior Citizens’ Complex in Greensborough War Memorial Park and are welcomed by Ian, who leads us into a room which has been allocated to the FoodShare. It’s a large room featuring a wide bench down its length, walls lined with fridges, a freezer, many labelled drawers, and cupboards which fill every available space – even below the benchtop. The room is bright and well organised and has a sense of military precision – Ian’s influence?
Whilst Guy busies himself taking photos of the copious stock of neatly stored fresh and packaged foods, I notice an array of Community Award certificates displayed on a large noticeboard. I’m curious for details – who are the ‘volunteers’, where does the food come from, how is it distributed and who is judged to be eligible to receive it? I ask Ian, who enthusiastically recounts the story.
A brief history
He starts at the beginning – in 1992, when the organisation was first established. Its aim was, and still is, to provide emergency food parcels to the residents of Banyule who need assistance to survive unemployment, homelessness, illness or family crisis. Twelve years later, in 2004, Ian and his wife learned about food sharing at a local supermarket. Ian was impressed by the work and immediately volunteered to assist the cause. Of Mrs Hemming he says, “My wife didn’t join FoodShare but does assist me greatly.“
Ian joined at a time when the FoodShare itself was in crisis – it was about to lose its President and, as no other was forthcoming, was in danger of closing. Ian was asked to step in as temporary leader and agreed to “give it a go for a month“. Fourteen years later, he’s still President and he oversees all facets of the organisation including the many volunteers who freely give up their time to collect, package and distribute free food and essential items.
The elected committee meets regularly to record expenses, plan fund-raising initiatives and to monitor activities. Feedback on their efforts is passed on to Banyule Council, who assist them with rent and building maintenance.
What is collected and where from?
Most of the food comes from the two major Melbourne-wide food relief organisations, namely Foodbank and SecondBite. FoodShare’s volunteers visit Foodbank every fortnight and pick up around 200Kg of fruit and veggies plus some pastries and refrigerated goods. They visit SecondBite every week and pick up around 80Kg of fruit and veggies.
They also collect donations from a variety of local sources including excess items and purchased goods donated by individuals. Donations of money are also welcome and is used to purchase essential items.
So where are the collection points? Bins are placed in five local Woolworths supermarkets, Foodworks Ivanhoe and Diamond Village and Diamond Creek IGA supermarkets. Their contents are augmented by generous contributions from churches, businesses, service groups, schools and individuals. Spoilable foods are collected in a refrigerated van which was purchased with the aid of a generous cash donation from Watsonia RSL, while other goods are transported in volunteer’s vehicles.
There is some ‘give and take’ in these arrangements – Ian tells me about FoodShare’s donations of Easter eggs to local schools and his visits to schools and clubs to talk about the organisation’s efforts to assist our oft unseen needy population.
Who receives the food?
Residents of Banyule are referred to the FoodShare after visiting either Diamond Valley Community Information Centre in Greensborough Plaza or Banyule Support & Information Centre (BANSIC) at The Mall, Heidelberg West. Recipients bearing referral forms visit the FoodShare facility to receive parcels containing enough food for three to four day periods. The food parcels can be accessed twice each month and all referral forms are returned to the agencies for cross referencing.
Around 50,000 meals are given out each year, and around 400 individuals receive meals in any given month.
My mind drifts, for a moment, to the children, teenagers, men and women in our community who suffer sudden and tragic events which leave them homeless, foodless and in need. They are often unseen. I wonder how I would cope if placed in such dire circumstances. Ian says that the gratitude recipients have for their aid is enough to “bring tears to your eyes” and provides volunteers with a reason to contribute so much for so long.
By now we have been joined by DV FoodShare Treasurer, Ian Searby, whose knowledge of facts and figures seems to complement Ian’s enthusiastic and forceful approach. Between them appears to be a fine balance of dynamic effort, military planning, effective organisation and keen eyes for funding. I reflect that they and their team seem to have built a very efficient and successful machine which serves a portion of our community which is in crisis – theirs is an important contribution.
Photos taken, information collected and it’s time to go. We thank the two Ians for their insights and, while returning to Eltham, I reflect on the many generous and caring people in our community and how lucky I am to live in here amongst them.