MORE Bendigo residents have needed food support since coronavirus shutdowns hit the economy, support services report.
Agencies say some people accessing help have never needed to before.
Bendigo Foodshare has seen some increase in demand, but is expecting even more by June.
But the organisation has found it difficult to measure demand exactly as many relief agencies cap services.
Foodshare Chair Cathie Steele said demand was building for food support, after an initial, inexplicable, drop.
But Ms Steele said many relief agencies had moved to an appointment only system, effectively capping their services.
She said agencies without caps, such as Mad Cow Cafe and Bendigo Family and Financial Services, had reported increased need for food support.
Ms Steele said she had heard on the grapevine that particular groups, such as international students working casually, were really feeling the hit to the economy.
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With think tank the Grattan Institute forecasting an unemployment peak yet to come, Ms Steele is expecting more demand.
"That says to me there's a steam train coming down the track and we have to be ready for it, but it hasn't hit us yet," Ms Steele said.
Ms Steele urged anyone struggling to contact the City of Greater Bendigo's coronavirus helpline.
Mad Cow chief executive Matt Parkinson said there had been a real shift in people accessing food support from the organisation.
Mr Parkinson said many were coming for the first time, sometimes feeling a sense of indignity at having to ask for help.
The Mad Cow cafe's normal focus is to make sure people living on the street can get a meal each day.
Mr Parkinson said he was now seeing families, or people picking up food for elderly or immunosuppressed relatives.
A Bendigo business has also received a quick response to its offer of a free meal.
Buddy's Chicken, Fish 'n Chips and Takeaway gave away 400 free meals within a week.
Owner Scott Gray said the business offered 400 free meals after many of the shop's elderly regulars stopped coming in daily.
Mr Gray and wife Michelle decided to offer the meal to whoever needed it, using a call-ahead system.
They found genuine need in the community, but also people who wanted to help. Mr Gray had to turn down at least 10 offered donations.
He said he was grateful to be able to keep trading, despite some downturn in sales.
"A lot of people [have] lost jobs, lost employment, a lot of people [are] scared about running out of money and not being able to feed themselves," Mr Gray said.
Ms Steele said she knew of a few food businesses who had helped those in need with hot meals.
She said it was great to see the community stepping up, through campaigns such as a community foodbank in Heathcote, and a help your neighbour campaign in Castlemaine.
"It's just fantastic to see communities stepping up and saying, 'We'll make sure the vulnerable people in our community aren't doing it tough'," Ms Steele said.
"To see businesses coming on board with that in Bendigo and surround is just fantastic."
City of Greater Bendigo COVID-19 helpline: 5434 6237 Monday to Friday, 8.30am - 5pm.
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