Health and wellbeing

How our communities work together for food relief

Businesses and non-profits in the city have pivoted their operations to support vulnerable people during Covid-19

Colombo Social

Covid-19 has shocked our community in an unprecedented way. We are all experiencing this period differently, but for some, a loss of income has made it difficult to afford regular meals.

This is how Sydney’s community is coming together to help make sure everyone can access food and groceries.

Supporting newly vulnerable people

When the impact of the global pandemic hit Sydney, we quickly heard from our communities about the risks they faced.

The City of Sydney usually supplies food to vulnerable people with Meals on Wheels. This supports around 140 clients with more than 37,600 meals each year. We’ve since expanded the program to more people in our neighbouring areas.

This need has grown exponentially.

International students at the OzHarvest Hamper Hub
International students at the OzHarvest Hamper Hub

Many people, including international students and temporary visa holders who receive no government payments, have been pushed into a dangerous position for the first time.

Youth services raised concerns that more and more people needed help. Community organisations signalled that they had to reduce their work as they were no longer able to fundraise through events. Bars and hotels reported that their staff were falling on hard times.

Finding household essentials at a reasonable price became a problem for those on tight incomes, with items disappearing off supermarket shelves in bouts of panic buying.

Ensuring our community members are fed and can access affordable groceries continues to be a top concern.

Working stronger together

Our role is to connect organisations with resources to those who need them. Community organisations, agencies, businesses and volunteers quickly came together to ensure those who need food can find it.

“We’re ensuring that everyone who wants to help can work together to support those who need it”,” said Trina Jones, our Safe City manager.

“We can’t solve food insecurity of this scale by ourselves. Public–private partnerships are creating opportunities for community champions, including businesses, to offer what they can.”

Ramped up restaurant rescue at OzHarvest

The need for OzHarvest’s services spiked by 50% because of the pandemic. The well-known organisation has ramped up its operations to rescue surplus food from restaurants and delivers it to those who need it. We provided them with a $1m grant to help them with their work supporting vulnerable community members.

One of their initiatives has been to provide free food hampers to international students in need through Hamper Hubs. The first was held at Redfern Town Hall.

Mirvac also stepped in to support OzHarvest, providing venues at Harbourside in Darling Harbour and Rhodes Waterside shopping centres.

OzHarvest volunteer
OzHarvest volunteer

“We’ve repurposed some of our spaces to give Hamper Hub the opportunity to provide vital support for groups and individuals who have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Kelly Miller, Mirvac’s general manager of retail.

International students from local universities took home more than 1,250 hampers of pantry staples and 1,000 pre-cooked meals at the first 2 events.

“The hampers are packed with pantry staples including rice, pasta, tinned food, oats and long-life milk, plus fresh fruit and veg including potatoes, carrots, onions, bananas, mandarins and apples. We also give out fresh soup packs and cooked meals made by OzHarvest kitchens and some of our hospitality partners,” said Richard Watson, OzHarvest’s NSW State Manager.

Mass food prep instead of shutdown at Colombo Social

Colombo Social is a Sri Lankan restaurant with a difference. With the help of his mum’s recipes, owner Shaun Christie-David started Colombo Social as a way to share history and build connection through food. The social enterprise employs recently arrived asylum seekers and refugees.

Colombo Social meals. Credit: Val Bong, Mission Australia
Colombo Social meals. Credit: Val Bong, Mission Australia

Instead of shutting its doors during the crisis, the restaurant turned its kitchen to preparing meals for vulnerable community members. By working with local partners such as Mission Australia and the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service, Colombo Social is delivering nutritious meals to those who most need them. The restaurant has so far donated a whopping 13,000 delicious, chef-prepared meals.

The social enterprise has recently been awarded a City of Sydney Covid-19 relief grant that will help them continue their work in this space.

Market fresh produce thanks to Viral Kindness

For elderly people or those who are socially isolated, fresh fruit and vegetables can be difficult to access. Lockdown made it harder for friends and neighbours to make drop offs and pushed organisations that usually help to capacity.

With the help of a group of volunteers Viral Kindnessand Harris Farm get fresh produce out to those in need through trusted community groups and organisations. The program is using a City of Sydney venue in Waterloo as its distribution centre.

“We collect bulk produce from Harris Farm and deliver it to a separate location where we pack individual boxes. We then dispatch these boxes to around 100 recipients a day, 5 days a week,” said Alasdair Grant from Viral Kindness.

Viral Kindness volunteers
Viral Kindness volunteers

‘Slow’ food and other meals at Lentil as Anything

Social enterprise Lentil as Anything is a pioneer in food relief, having operated on a pay-as-you-feel model for 20 years. Its Newtown restaurant quickly evolved its services. Lentil’s kitchen is preparing 1,000 vegan and halal meals a week. The restaurant is also opening its doors to rough sleepers as a place where they can wash their hands and charge their phone.

Lentil as Anything has partnered with St Georges Community Housing and St Vincent’s Homeless Health Service to deliver meals and offer ‘slow’ food, as well as long-life vacuum-packed takeaways. We are also supporting Lentil as Anything with a Covid-19 relief grant so they can continue their Feed the Need program.

What happens as restrictions ease

Even as social distancing measures ease, the economic impact will not be short lived.

A dedicated community hotline has been set up to ensure people who contact us can get access to the help they need. Our staff are linking vulnerable individuals and groups to a network of over 60 agencies providing food support in our local area.

Lentil as Anything and Colombo Social are just some of the initiatives focused on food security that have received one of our Covid-19 relief grants.

As of June 2020, over 20,000 meals and 1,500 staples bags are being provided in the City of Sydney area every week to those who need them.

If you’d like to be connected to food relief near you, call us on 02 9265 9333.
If you’re a business and want to help, contact

If you or someone you know is struggling with your mental health during this time, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, always call triple zero (000).

Published 15 June 2020, updated 18 June 2020