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By Jade Glen

More than one in five Australian kids went hungry last year.

New research unveiled in the Foodbank Hunger Report paints a worrying picture about the number of children living in food insecure households – with some kids regularly going without fresh food, enough food, or in some cases, entire days without any food at all.

Going hungry is a common occurrence for the 22 per cent of Australian children identified as being food insecure. Almost half of these children skipped a meal at least once a week.

Parents reported large bills, unexpected expenses, and meeting the rent or mortgage repayments were the main reasons they could not afford enough food for their family. More than half of the respondents said they had sometimes not paid bills in order to buy food for the household. Contrary to some common misconceptions, only 8 per cent said they could not afford food because money was spent on cigarettes, drugs, alcohol or gambling.

Food insecurity is a very real problem in the Yarra Ranges – Neal Taylor, CEO and Community Worker at Holy Fools in Lilydale, said he had seen an increase in people seeking emergency assistance with food, housing and bills.

“We often see people struggling to pay their rent or pay their bills or feed their children, and in some cases you find families are skipping meals to meet those costs.

“Just recently we’ve had a family who were living in a couple of tents with their children because they can’t find anywhere to live. We’ve provided some help in the way of a bit of food, referrals, and showers with the help of Lilydale Football Club.

“We are also seeing a couple of young ladies that are about to have babies, that are homeless – what’s going to happen to their child once they are born?”

Foodbank Australia’s CEO Brianna Casey said it was both heartbreaking and unacceptable to hear that children were going hungry anywhere in the world, let alone in Australia.

“As the cost of living continues to rise, parents are really feeling the strain of these financial pressures on their household budgets, forcing some to make impossible decisions for their families,” she said.

Most parents reported feeling ashamed or embarrassed about the situation, and many had tried to cut down on portion sizes, take their children to a family member’s house for a meal, or sought food assistance from a charity, to address their child’s hunger.

More than half of parents reported that their child’s behaviour changed as a result of being hungry – with more outburst or tantrums, a decline in happiness, children becoming more agitated and irritable, or acting up at school and at home.

Foodbank provides food for over 652,000 people a month, but its frontline charity partners have reported an increasing demand for food relief. About 65,000 people are turned away every month due to a lack of food.

Mr Taylor said food insecurity, homelessness and the rising cost of living required a response from the whole community.

“It’s so easy for a family to end up homeless. It’s just someone losing their job, or someone getting ill, particularly if they don’t have the network of family and friends in the area as well.

“We need a community effort. We’ve got to become a community that cares about our neighbours and what goes on down the street, what goes on next door. We need everyone in the community getting up and saying that’s it, enough’s enough, people shouldn’t be starving in our backyard.”

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