Gisborne Herald. Saturday, August 06, 2011 • Andrew Fernando
A HUGE increase in the number of Gisborne people seeking budgeting advice has contributed to a drastic drop in demand for food bank services, even as living costs and unemployment levels rise.
Three Gisborne food banks spoken to by The Herald said there had been a significant drop in the number of people seeking donations, with the city’s largest food bank — The Salvation Army — reporting a decrease of around 50 percent.
The decline in demand for help has coincided with a dramatic increase in people seeking advice on their budget — a result of Gisborne food banks’ collective efforts to break the intergenerational cycle of food dependence.
Gisborne food banks tightened their eligibility criteria in March last year, requiring regular clients to sign up for budgeting advice.
The move had paid dividends 12 months later, said Salvation Army community ministries coordinator Beverley Hauiti.
“There has just been an incredible increase in the number of people who have wanted budget advice. We have three budget advisers on site here, but we still have a three-week waiting list of people who are just waiting to see one of us.”
Ms Hauiti said budget advisers were in high demand across Gisborne.
“We work very closely as a collective unit with other food banks, and some of them also have waiting lists on their budget advice services.”
The Salvation Army had reaped the benefits of an attitude change, she said.
“For a long time we have been the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff but we’re now trying to inform and inspire people to change the way they live and deal with the deeper issues.”
Gisborne Salvation Army Pastor Graham Medland agreed the budget advice service was likely to have influenced the dip in demand for food parcels.
“We have not sat down and analysed the figures, but I think the increase in people enrolled in our budget advice services has certainly had an effect there.”
The manager of another Gisborne food bank said it had also had fewer requests in recent months, and believed the popularity of budget advice services was making the difference.
“We refer people to budget advice as well and have had a lot of good feedback from it. I think it’s a really positive sign that people are taking more responsibility.”
The unemployment rate for the East Coast rose 2.4 percent in the quarter ended March 2011, and sits at 9.8 percent — 3.2 percent higher than the national average.