Shepparton Foodshare has gained great value from volunteer Shane Garner, whose full-time shift work allows him the flexibility to devote a couple of days a week to this not-for-profit organisation.
In the winter however, that commitment doubles – allowing Shane to work four days a week to help rescue fresh and nutritious food and repackage it for local relief agencies, churches, schools and others.
Shane’s paid job is with Goulburn Murray Water (GMW) where he is one of 30 Water Delivery Consultants. With delivery now automated across the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, Shane helps farmers organise when, where and how much water they want delivered to their properties.
But when winter comes along, the gravity irrigation season closes and all but two of GMW’s Water Planners take two months unpaid leave. Some go fishing, some chase warmer weather and others pick up extra work.
Three years ago Shane decided to try volunteering, choosing Shepparton Foodshare which operates out of a donated warehouse in Mooroopna.
“I started to help out as a van driver, collecting food, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
“I like the people I work with, I like what they’re doing for the community and I feel like my help is really needed.”
Shane has warehousing experience but he says it’s often just helping to shift boxes for the many retirees who volunteer at Shepparton Foodshare.
“We have a couple of ladies here in their 80s who are volunteers,” Shane said. “They do great work but they don’t need to be shifting pallets!”
A friendly, joking rapport between Shane, fellow volunteers and Operations Co-ordinator Bec Nicolls was obvious during a recent visit. However, the easy-going nature of the place is deceiving – Shepparton Foodshare is currently collecting, packaging and providing relief agencies with about 50,000 meals a month for those in need.
The warehouse is a hive of activity because it has to be. Many of the items on the shelves have been donated because they are at their “sell by” or “best before” date, while perishables also require fast turnover.
“The example I like to use is the bag of tomatoes where one is damaged,” Shane said. “The supermarket can’t sell it but we can repackage this perfectly good food.”
Other items are donated because of labelling errors, dented tinned goods or a particular product that just didn’t hit the mark with consumers. The goods that find their way to Shepparton Foodshare are often traded with sister organisations around the state, so each can have a variety of food choices for recipients.
“For example we might swap our dented tins of fruit from SPC with Albury-Wodonga Foodshare, for snacks and cereals from their Uncle Tobys factory,” Bec Nicolls said.
Shepparton Foodshare doesn’t provide food directly to its many recipients. Around 100 registered agencies have their own staff and volunteers who take and make deliveries - like the Salvos, church groups and schools providing lunch and breakfast to children who might otherwise go without.
A tally board at Shepparton Foodshare tells the story. During May, 9000kg of food nearing its end-date was saved, 25,000kg of food was donated and of this 34,000kg total, 32,000kg was distributed to people in need.
“Whatever is left over goes to pig feed so really, none of it is wasted,” Shane said.
Bec said Shepparton Foodshare was fortunate to have about 20 regular “Shanes” who ensure the service runs smoothly. She is also grateful to the major regional organisations who donate food, like SPC, Unilever, Campbell’s and Tatura Milk.
Shane said through both his work and his volunteering, he was aware of many unsung growers who contribute to Shepparton Foodshare – like GMW customer Nick Dimit of G&C Dimit and Sons Orchards in East Shepparton.
This long-established orchard business grows premium peaches for higher-end fruit shops, where a mark from a tree limb or a blemish on a piece of fruit makes it unviable for sale.
“We are picking stone fruit from December to March and on any particular day, we’ll get a small percentage that might be limb-marked – they otherwise taste great and are of premium quality,” Nick Dimit said.
“So several years ago we began setting aside cases of this fruit for Foodshare and I am happy for them to have it – and happy it can be enjoyed by people in need.”
Not-for-profit agencies wishing to source food for the needy, or individuals and organisations with food to donate, can contact Bec Nicoll on 0432 517 329.