Top taste: Bendigo Foodshare volunteers Danielle Tomayo and Robyn Scanlon with meals made as part of the Cafes for COVID program. Photo: BRENDAN McCARTHY

Cafes cook up for COVID relief

July 29, 2021 BY

BENDIGO Foodshare’s Cafes for COVID initiative has returned with the goal of distributing hearty and healthy meals to vulnerable people across Central Victoria while also supporting lockdown-hit hospitality businesses.

Previously backed by public donations, the latest round of the Cafes for COVID initiative is funded by the State Government and pays workers from over 20 hospitality businesses to cook 6000 meals.

Community services coordinator Amy Sattler said the organisation had met that target number well ahead of schedule, with the latest round of the project launched only two weeks prior to the fifth statewide lockdown.

“It’s been incredible timing,” she said. “We set some pretty ambitious goals for ourselves, given particularly that we’re such a small organisation in the scale of things.

“We’ve met that target at the halfway point, we’ve also more than tripled the target of businesses that we were hoping to support during this time.

“Also, we set a target to reach a certain number of regional communities as well and we have well exceeded that.”

Ms Sattler said the number of businesses registered to participate doubled when the lockdown was announced two weeks ago, and registrations are now closed.

“We have been able to jump in quite quickly to get these businesses registered sometimes overnight to be able to stop that food going to waste and be able to offer a small amount of financial assistance where we can to some of these businesses at the moment when it really matters,” she said.

Manager of the Rifle Brigade Hotel, Leanne Scholtz, said being part of Cafes for COVID meant her 31 staff could be paid for the first time since the fifth lockdown was announced, as the venue was completely shut.

The team made 195 meals last Friday, with 105 more still to come.

Originally planning for the lockdown to only last five days, Ms Scholtz said she was left with an excess of food that would have otherwise gone to waste.

“It would’ve gone in the bin, that’s what would’ve happened. I can’t freeze down the vegetables that we had, we don’t have the capacity to be able to freeze that down,” she said.

So far, the team has made eye fillet steak with veggies and gravy, a vegetarian linguine and carbonara.

Ms Scholtz said the $7200 State Government support payment for hospitality venues during lockdown didn’t cover her overhead costs, with the extra income from the project providing some relief.

“In that amount we still have to pay merchant fees, we still pay power, we’ve got three massive cool rooms that we run 24 hours a day… rent, liquor licenses, insurances, all that sort of stuff,” she said.

“That probably doesn’t even cover a quarter of what we’re still paying out when we’re closed.

“Just that little bit of [Cafes for COVID] money, to know that it’s coming in, it’s covering that. We’re not wasting all that food that we’ve paid for.”

Bendigo Foodshare will distribute the 6000 meals to 80 agencies and community groups registered with them, with those organisations then passing the food directly on to people in need.

“It’s just a great thing to be involved in and to know that at the end of the day you’re cooking this food for people that wouldn’t have been able to afford it, that makes you feel even better,” Ms Scholtz said.

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