Charity calls for help before school year begins

Family budgets stretched: Lisa Chesters has joined volunteers from Uniting Care Bendigo's emergency relief service to call for donations ahead of the back-to-school rush. Picture: Darren Howe.

Family budgets stretched: Lisa Chesters has joined volunteers from Uniting Care Bendigo's emergency relief service to call for donations ahead of the back-to-school rush. Picture: Darren Howe.

A Bendigo charity is bracing for a back-to-school rush, saying many central Victorian families are struggling with the increasing cost of education.

Angela Draper is a volunteer with Uniting Care Bendigo’s emergency relief service. She said the agency is calling for the public to dig deep and donate.

“It’s incredibly difficult for a lot of our families to by books, shoes, all sorts of things that are necessary for school.”

Federal member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said some local schools were now charging more than $1000 for books.

“Further, every school – public, private and independent – now have school fees and again some families will simply not have the cash to pay for them.”

“With the costs of basics like rent, utility bills and transport continuing to skyrocket, it’s likely even more local families will need help this year.”

Ms Chesters said local emergency relief agencies reported more families requesting help in 2015 than in previous years. Some reported that requests for assistance had increased by over 30 per cent.

Ms Draper said each year the situation became harder for volunteers.  

“We do our very best but it’s becoming increasingly difficult as pockets are emptying in Bendigo.

“There’s a lot of compassion fatigue, there’s a lot of people asking for help. And the dollar will only go so far.”

Many of those who approach Uniting Care need food, though the service also provides financial assistance, advocacy, household goods and clothing. 

Ms Draper said people were struggling because of lack of work, adding many of their clients were employed people whose hours were being reduced.

“A lot of people are on part time work, for example. And they have mortgages or rents to pay. They have to pay those first and that doesn’t leave very much for other basics such as food.”

“Some of the other agencies also forwarding their clients onto us after they’ve had their funding decreased.”

Ms Chesters hoped educational disadvantage becomes a 2016 election issue, citing cuts to Gonski funding as well as the scrapping of the federal government’s school kids bonus.

The bonus allows eligible families to claim $430 for every primary school student and $856 for those in secondary school.

“Imagine how hard it’s going to be next year when these same families – in fact, more families – don’t have access to the school kids bonus. Imagine how many more people will be seeking the support of agencies like Uniting Care.”

To donate to Uniting Care Bendigo, call Julie or Angela on 5443 4972.

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