Leah Mailio-Corporate Research & Consultation Officer COGG
2. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
As part of an adequate safety net addressing food insecurity for the most vulnerable in the Geelong region, the current Research Project will gather previously unknown local data and begin establishing an independent data and ‘best practice’ evidence base to inform future planning and guide decision making. The project will develop a common annual data set that could be used as a baseline and to monitor the supply and demand for food assistance across the region overtime. The current research project will provide a useful tool and contribute to informing ongoing development of an effective and sustainable regional food assistance system.
The study seeks to describe the current food assistance activity across the region and to identify the key components of current supply and demand for both providers (agencies and programs providing food directly to clients) and distributors (organisations sourcing and supplying food to other agencies.) The study will also identify client numbers, profiles and usage patterns to better understand the current demand and where possible identify any duplication or unmet needs thereby signposting possible future direction.
The purpose of the Research Project is to establish regional baseline data to describe the current food assistance activity and to identify current usage and unmet needs across the exiting Food Relief System in the Geelong region. Recommendations drawn from the study’s data analysis and Literature Review will assist in prioritizing the next stage of GFANs activities and will be used to raise awareness and lobby for additional funds and in kind support.
Healthy eating is the foundation of a healthy population and a productive workforce.1
People are food secure when they have, at all times, physical and economic access to safe, nutritious and appropriate food for a healthy lifestyle.2 A vital determinant of health is adequate nutrition which is determined by food security.3
Food insecurity and its related health issues are a major current global concern.4
When people do not have adequate physical, economic or social access to food they are food insecure.5
People experiencing food insecurity are more likely to be overweight, underweight, experience lack of energy and suffer anxiety.6 Food insecurity in the region has detrimental effects on the health of individuals, families and the community as a whole.6 Children who are raised in food insecure households may be at risk of nutritional deficiencies. Food insecurity affects people’s physical, mental and social health.2 Certain groups of people within the community are at higher risk of experiencing food security including those on low incomes, single parent families, the homeless, Indigenous Australians, Newly Arrived and refugees. 2
3.2. The Local Context
Within the Geelong region evidence shows that not everyone has regular access to food and food insecurity is a growing issue.
Agreed estimates of people experiencing food insecurity vary widely. They range from 2% in the general Victorian population to as high as 24% in some at risk groups.7 It is well known that areas within the City of Greater Geelong have socio-economic indicators much lower than the State averages. Therefore it is important to look beyond individual risk conditions to surrounding social and environmental causes of food insecurity. With suburbs including Whittington and Corio represented as areas of high disadvantage in Victoria (SEIFA 1st decile)8 and Geelong currently facing tough economic times with the downturn in manufacturing resulting in high unemployment food security is expected to be significantly affected.
In 2012, the a Needs Assessment conducted by the G21 Food Security Network indicated over 20,000 residents had experienced food insecurity in the past year and there were pockets of food insecurity reaching levels of 19%.9
Latest figures from the 2011 Census stated that 38.6% of individuals in Geelong earn $400 or less per week.8 Conducting a Market Basket Surveys across the City of Greater Geelong using the Victorian Healthy Food Basket tool showed that for many families a healthy basket of food was unaffordable costing > 30% of their income.9&10 In addition to this, Geelong has become a resettlement site for many refugees making affordable and appropriate food an important humanitarian health determinant.8
Low income is recognised as one of the highest indicators of food insecurity5 so it is no surprise that food insecurity is increasing in the Geelong Region.
Despite the wider funding, policy, social and economic determinants of health maintaining the ideal of a population that can access fresh affordable and nutritious food from non emergency sources, it is vital that there are sustainable, complementary and transparent Food Assistance Services operating in Geelong as a fall back when individuals and families find themselves in crisis situations.
In 2009, a regional G21 Food Security Network was established and aspired to create a collaborative and strategic approach to a wide range of food security issues, one of which was to address the issues surrounding the Emergency Food Relief sector. 9
The Network’s activities included the publication of a Food Access and Support booklet and Hungry Brochure, a Needs Assessment- Building the Local Picture around Food Security in 20129 and a Municipal Food Scan in 201311. All of which recommended the need to establish and build the capacity of an Emergency Food Assistance Network to improve service coordination and increase access to nutritious foods for vulnerable groups at risk of food insecurity.
At the same time Give Where You Live, a local Community Foundation with a longstanding involvement in Emergency Relief funding had also noted anecdotal reporting of 15-30% increased demand over the past 3 years by 25 local provider and distributor agencies being funded via grants and the long established Direct Assistance voucher program.
In response to concerns of increasing regional food insecurity and demand for food assistance at the local agency level, Give Where You Live and the City of Greater Geelong (COGG) formed a partnership and conducted a forum (mid 2013) bringing together over 40 agencies working across all aspects of the Emergency Food Relief sector and the Geelong Food Assistance Network (GFAN) was established. It was recognised that despite high levels of activity, there was no common leadership or coordination between the various agencies and little opportunity or shared strategy in responding to any identified service gaps or duplication in terms of the Food Assistance in the region.
Across the region there is a long and established network and history of providing food and other forms of Emergency Relief to those in need. Seeking to understand the quantity and nature of activities across a diverse informal network of charity, faith and community based outlets which operate within a complex and largely unregulated supply chain for clients, provider and distributors contributed to the rationale and refined the objectives and purpose of the current research project.
Concerns that increasing food insecurity and anecdotal yet often conflicting reports of rising demand for food assistance was occurring and likely to rise further in response to i) the downturn in manufacturing resulting in higher unemployment and ii) recognition that Geelong as a resettlement site was seeing larger numbers of refugees requiring supplementary affordable and appropriate nutritious food were becoming increasingly apparent. The unknown impact of these factors on the supply and demand for future food assistance was frequently the subject of strong media and community opinion but remained largely speculative and lacking any reliable evidence base on which to base either current ‘ad hoc’ food assistance responses or more systematic future planning.
While it was recognised the region had numerous organizations, businesses, agencies and institutions supporting food assistance the need for an overarching strategy to ensure services work collaboratively was acknowledged by all stakeholders including consultation with the GFAN members and Leadership group in particular. Needing to establish a reliable baseline was a key aspect of the current study and is driving the need and urgency for planning and developing greater capacity to distribute increased quantities of food quickly and efficiently.
3.3. The ‘Food For Thought’ Needs Assessment Project
The current Research project was commissioned (late 2013) by Give Where You Live as a partnership project with the City Of Greater Geelong and participating agencies of the newly formed Geelong Food Assistance Network. (GFAN). The GFAN comprise both a small leadership and general membership group of over 40 agencies which provide informal leadership and co-ordination of a regional approach to the Food Relief Service system to “best meet the needs of local residents experiencing food insecurity due to financial disadvantage”.
As part of an adequate safety net addressing food insecurity for the most vulnerable in the Geelong region, the current Research Project will gather previously unknown local data and begin establishing an independent data and ‘best practice’ evidence base to inform future planning and guide decision making.
The study seeks to describe the current food assistance activity across the region and to identify the key components of current supply and demand for both providers (agencies and programs providing food directly to clients) and distributors (organisations sourcing and supplying food to other agencies.) The study will also seek to identify client numbers, profiles and usage patterns to better understand the current demand and where possible identify any duplication or unmet needs thereby signposting possible future direction.
The purpose of the Research Project is to establish regional baseline data to describe the current food assistance activity and to identify current usage and unmet needs across the exiting Food Relief System in the Geelong region.
3.4. The objectives of the study:
To increase knowledge and understanding of what is currently happening in the Food Relief System
To increase transparency in Food Relief Services and programs within Geelong Region
To develop a common set of data that can be used annually and as a measure of the supply and demand of Emergency Food Assistance in Geelong Region.
To use evidence based literature to explore current best practice models in the Emergency Food System globally and locally
To create a shared understanding and set priorities for action to improve the
efficiency and effectiveness of the current Food Relief System.
It is hoped recommendations drawn from the study’s data analysis and Literature Review will assist in prioritizing the next stage of GFANs activities and guide the development of a regional strategy to provide a more cohesive, efficient and effective Food Assistance system for the vulnerable residents in the Geelong Region.
The Results of the Study will be disseminated to a wide stakeholder audience and will be used to raise awareness and lobby for additional funds and in kind support from the wider policy, donor, funding and service delivery context to reduce food insecurity for the most ‘at risk’ groups in the Geelong region.
QUOTES Put throughout the document
“I would love to be able to give people a food parcel filled with a variety of interesting food that makes them go wow”. Alexandra Ginga, Open Hands Geelong
“Some volunteers have been here since we started 23 years ago” Paul Kimber, The Outpost Inc
"If we, as a community, is to assist our fellow citizens who need a helping hand with dignity, love and hope, then perhaps we should embrace the concept of donations through planning rather than ad hoc donations to avoid wastage; for the former focuses on others and when we focus on others, we may collectively achieve the impossible in enabling them to break free from the cycle of poverty and see a better future" Peter Chiang, President Geelong Region St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc
“It would be nice to know in advance what food is coming; it’s like Masterchef here on a Friday night” Kay Barkley, First Response Geelong Inc
“When people eat they relax, they stop pacing” Josephine Barnes, Coordinator Samaritan House
“Participation in the Food for Thought Project was a useful exercise for us and it led into conversations with our people about their needs or otherwise for extra Christmas help in the form of hampers” Dr Carol Naylor, Ocean Grove Uniting Church
To establish a comprehensive picture of local food assistance programs the following 5 methodologies were utilized:
4.1 Literature Review
A Review of the Literature Describing Emergency food systems and community food assistance programs was carried out during the period of August 2013 to February 2014.
See Appendix 1 for Full Literature review
In order to make informed recommendations and to explore the issue fully, a literature review was conducted to provide the background information needed to understand the study commissioned to give a theoretical base for the research. Systematic reviews, peer-reviewed articles and government and non-government organizations policies and procedures related to food assistance were examined. The review was used to inform recommendations and devise a glossary of common terminology. This will be used to guide the future direction of GFAN to promote a sustainable and effective food assistance network.
4.2 Food Assistance Survey
A survey format was compiled roughly based on Foodbank Victoria’s Agency Registration Profile 2013 Survey questions. Input and consultation was sought via the GFAN Leadership and General Membership Groups. Advice regarding question content and ethical considerations was sought from COGG Corporate Services. Participants were recruited by cross-referencing GFAN & G21 Food Security Network (FSN) contact lists.
53 Agencies Audits were completed (reflecting 99 individual programs) – See Appendix 3 for example Provider Survey.
The Survey takers were asked a series of questions that were based on a numerical system along with some written responses that were recorded by the interviewer and entered into a spreadsheet. The interviews took place during the time frame of October 2013 to June 2014. 33 of the interviews were face-to-face, 4 were over the phone & 16 were via e-mail at the request of the agencies. All Surveys were completed by the same interviewer to maintain consistency.
Unscripted discussions were also carried out with representatives in 2 areas noted as voids regarding food assistance programs: Bellarine Peninsula and Banockburn (Golden Plains Shire.) Community Veracity/AGB were interviewed as they provide in kind support to Second Bite operations and link registered training programs to agency operations.
3 Distributor Audits were completed- See Appendix 4 for example. All 3 Audits were completed face-to-face by the same interviewer during the period of August-September 2013. The Distributor audit questions aimed to capture information regarding where food was sourced from, the quantity and composition of the food garnered, the agencies supplied and the resources involved in distribution operations.
4.3 Data Collection Census Week
Data Collection Sheets were issued to the 53 agencies and 3 distributors - See Appendix 5 Provider Data Collection Sheet. Data was collected over one week in November 2013 by providers and distributors. This data assessed the need for food assistance during the week by recording numbers of presenting clients , their age, gender how many they were feeding, household type and suburb.
Participants were asked to record their data during the week of November 25th-29th 2013 providing a mini census of food assistance in the region. (41 providers did so, 77% response rate). 8 Providers were unable to record their data during the data collection week but took averages of the weeks around the census date. This resulted in 49 providers (representing 86 individual programs) completing the sheets.
The data represents total number of presentations recorded and will, no doubt, include repeat presentations by the same people. For this reason the number of meals derived from food assistance has been noted rather than the number of people fed to address the issue of repeat presentations (i.e feeding a family of 4 or a sole person 4 times both= 4 meals)
Certain programs target specific age groups and sexes. Consideration must be given to these factors when interpreting the data. Careful attention was paid to preventing duplication of data by not collecting data from umbrella organizations as well as frontline agencies they service.
Data Collection Sheets were issued to 3 distributors- See Appendix 6 Distributor Data Collection Sheet. The Distributors collected the following data over the week; source of food, weight (kgs) of food and percentage of food type (Fruit & vegetable, Dairy, Cereals & Grains, Meat and Other Protein, Processed and prepared food and culturally specific food. All 3 distributors completed the data collection sheet during the designated week (100% response rate).
a) Agency Map
Spatial mapping of food assistance agencies and distributors was carried out to determine physical access to food assistance services and highlight any areas void of programs. The location of participating providers and distributors were plotted on a regional map.
b) Postcode Data
Client postcodes were collected during the Agency Census and this data has been tabulated to indicate which suburbs clients are travelling from and provide information regarding the cohort of people accessing local food assistance.
4.5 Participant Feedback
a) Feedback Questionnaire
All organisations participating in Project were asked to complete a feedback questionnaires (50% response rate) relating to their experience with the Project along with a chance for general comments on areas for improvement/change within the project. - See Appendix 7 for a copy of the feedback questionnaire
b) Group Consultation
The project proposal was handed out at the GFAN Leadership meeting September 29th 2013 for comment and input. Notes were taken during this meeting regarding stakeholder engagement and perception of the Project.
A Feedback Group was held with the GFAN Leadership group on 13th February 2014 and the GFAN General Membership group on 27th March 2014 to provide preliminary Project findings and discuss arising topics. A power point presentation of the preliminary Food for Thought Project findings to date was used to stimulate conversation from the group regarding their thoughts on the findings.
4.6. Strengths & Limitations of the Project
Every reasonable step was taken to ensure the methodology of this research project was as rigorous as it could be. Consultation with stakeholders was sought at each step in the project process. All Survey interviews were completed by the same interviewer to provide continuity. All data entry of results was by the same project worker and double checked by the project supervisor. When programs were found to umbrella under more than one agency care was taken to count the data as one program so as to not duplicate figures.
Many of these programs never set out to run food assistance services but food security is so closely enveloped in welfare that they have food themselves running busy food programs. It was sometimes difficult finding one person who oversaw the whole program as often many people contribute to running these programs. Very few provider agencies keep recorded data regarding their services (numbers of meals, food parcels & clientele). Some of the figures reported are based on educated guesses. Some programs are quite new and do not have established numbers of clients/meals per week.
The costing question in the Survey proved very difficult to answer for many agencies. A lot stated that their food assistance program costs were absorbed in their agency’s operating budget so dollar costings were based on informed estimates. To address the void in many agencies being unable to provide costing estimates we took an average of the operational cost for medium sized programs. This was presented to the GFAN leadership group who agreed that our calculations represented a reasonably accurate depiction of average program operating costs
Not all agencies could collect their data during the designated Data Collection Census Week due to various circumstances so they have submitted figures that as closely as possible resemble an average week. Out of 53 participating agencies 41 completed their data collection sheets during the designated week 25th-29th November (77 %). The remaining agencies (15%) were interviewed after the official Data Collection Week but a weekly average has been generated from their Survey responses. One provider completed the audit but declined to complete the data collection sheet. All 3 distributors complete their data collection sheets (100%).
During the Data Collection Census Week some agencies did not feel comfortable asking clients’ questions as they felt this could damage the rapport they had built. Unfortunately only 1,854 postcodes were recorded out of a total of 5, 152 clients presenting during the week (36%). The reasons given for why agencies were unable to accurately record a higher percentage of postcodes include sensitivity towards intrusiveness and fear of stigma associated with food assistance usage and a lack of organizational capacity to physically record the data.
Due to the high number of clients presenting to these programs it has not been possible to reflect repeat visitations by clients or to represent clients visiting more than one provider (double counted). For this reason the number of meals presented in the designated week has been noted as well as the number of people in an attempt to address the issue of repeat presentations.
Care must be taken when interpreting the demographic of clients presenting as some programs target just young people (8 participating agencies target <30 years of age cohort) and others only count single person presentations not family demographics (9 meal programs count only single presentations). These factors may result some data being skewed slightly.
96 providers and 3 distributors were contacted representing 145 individual food assistance programs. Of the 96 providers 27 were deemed unsuitable to participate because they either no longer ran food assistance programs or their programs were covered under other providers. This left 69 possible participating providers and of those 53 took part in the Project (77% participation rate). If the data collection process is to be an annual undertaking it would strengthen the evidence presented if a higher participation rate could be achieved.
5.1 Literature Review: A review of literature describing Emergency Food Systems and community Food Assistance Programs
The full Literature Review can be accessed as a separate document see Appendix 1.