Food rescue charity OzHarvest in Canberra is now buying cooked meals for those in need during lockdown, spending money it doesn't have to help those in crisis.
The National Convention Centre has kept its kitchens open and its chefs on deck to cook 500 meals a week for OzHarvest, which usually only collects unused fresh produce but has had to pivot in lockdown to meet the need.
OzHarvest Canberra City manager Bin Barnier said it was spending $2500 a week on 500 cooked meals, then donating them to local charity agencies which are dealing with people unable to feed themselves during the lockdown.
It was putting a financial strain on OzHarvest in Canberra which had to apply for funds from its NSW counterpart to cope.
"Where we used to run pretty neutral in cost, it's not the case at the moment," Ms Barnier said.
"Any money raised in the ACT, stays in the ACT but at the moment we don't have enough funds in the ACT so I'm actually getting funds for this from NSW."
The meals are taken from the Convention Centre's kitchen directly to the refrigerated OzHarvest vans and delivered to charities around the city such as the PCYC, Ainslie Village and MacKillop House.
Ms Barnier said the demand for help had increased across the city and OzHarvest had to react.
"Typically we don't provide cooked meals, we provide ingredients but this has been fantastic, because it's supplemented our demand," she said.
"The agencies are seeing demand from families with young children, in particular."
National Convention Centre executive chef Nikhil Jain said in normal, non-COVID times, its six chefs would be pumping out 5000 to 7000 meals a week.
He said the OzHarvest work was giving each chef about one shift a week, which also helped their own mental wellbeing as they got out of the house and back into the kitchen.
"It's great to be able to be doing something productive for the community," Mr Jain said.
Ms Barnier said COVID was putting pressure on OzHarvest in other ways.
The supply of excess food staples had gone down during lockdown, while demand for food from its partner agencies had increased.
Ms Barnier pleaded with organisations such as Canberra's fresh food markets to donate what they could, especially protein such as meat, eggs and dairy.
Organisations that already donated included Woolworths, ALDI, Costco and local IGAs, including Chapman IGA which recently donated an extra $2500 in in-kind goods.
Other organisations had also stepped up. Nando's in Civic recently donated to OzHarvest almost 200kg in cooked chicken, arranged in family-sized portions.
"Primarily what we would like is the healthy food, the fruit and vegetables," Ms Barnier said.
"Protein is what we run out of. We don't want the sugary things. We want healthy staples because whether you are in need or whether you are flush with funds, we all want healthy, nourishing food and that's our goal."
- To donate food or money to OzHarvest or to register as an organisation to receive meals, go to www.ozharvest.org