THE need for help from Bendigo Foodshare is rising among the region's working poor.
The charitable organisation is providing food for an extra 3600 people a week, this year.
Bendigo Foodshare chair Cathie Steele said people who were underemployed were among those finding it hardest to feed themselves and their families.
"That's the big increase," she said.
About 774,000 Victorians live in poverty, according to the Victorian Council of Social Service.
Ms Steele said almost 25,000 people in our region are living close to the poverty line.
Central Victoria is home to some of the most disadvantaged parts of the state.
About 1600 people in the Bendigo suburbs of California Gully and Eaglehawk are living in poverty - almost 20 per cent of the population in those areas. An estimated 1700 people in Bendigo itself are living in poverty.
Approximately 1300 people in White Hills and Ascot live in households that fall below the poverty line, as are roughly 16 per cent of people in the Maryborough, Rushworth, Heathcote areas.
"Current economic conditions and a rise in underemployment are making it harder than ever for working families to make ends meet," Ms Steele said.
"Not everyone in our region is fortunate enough to escape the skyrocketing utility bills, effects of underemployment and high costs of living."
She said many people were forced to stretch their budgets to the max in winter, as the weather cooled.
"As a result, we've seen a rise in demand for food relief," Ms Steele said.
Bendigo Foodshare last year provided food for about 8800 people a week.
Approximately 12,400 people are depending on the charitable organisation each week, this year.
Bendigo Foodshare last month partnered with Bendigo Bank to launch its Million Meals in May appeal.
Ms Steele said the $65,000 goal was within reach, with about $56,000 already tallied.
That's before the donations in each of the more than 100 collection tins throughout the region have been counted, or factoring in contributions from the Soup Fest.
A number of hospitality businesses pledged to donate the proceeds from the sales of bowls of soup to the Million Meals in May appeal.
But Ms Steele said Bendigo Foodshare was seeking a little more support, just to get the appeal over the edge.
The organisation is also seeking ongoing support to help meet the demand for food assistance in the community.
"We still need more food," Ms Steele said.
She said Bendigo Foodshare was encouraging people to donate any excess produce they might have grown on their properties to the organisation, along with any other food.
Strengthening the organisation's relationships with supermarkets is another priority.
This year's Million Meals in May appeal has this year attracted fresh support. Ms Steele said it was the first time Bendigo Bank had partnered on the initiative.
The Bendigo City Masonic Lodge also lent its support with a $5000 community grant from Freemasons Victoria.
The lodge's relationship with Bendigo Foodshare is expected to continue.
"We realised the Foodshare was doing such a good job providing assistance to such a large number of people," secretary John Crimmins said.
"It's part of our mandate as Freemasons to assist in charity work.
"Our aim now is to try and help Bendigo Foodshare as much as we can."
May might have ended, but the Million Meals appeal is still open: bendigofoodshare.org.au/million-meals-in-may-signup
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