CENTRAL Victorians have been paying it forward, enabling a Bendigo-based social enterprise to provide hundreds of meals at no cost to vulnerable community members.
Friday Food Safari organisers estimate more than 420 meals have been provided free of charge in 14 weeks.
The Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services initiative dishes out 140 meals a week.
Meals are valued at $12 each, but Multicultural Services interim executive officer Rosita Vincent said people were able to pay what they could afford.
They could also donate a meal for a person in need.
"We've been able to support some really vulnerable community members... particularly those who might be temporary visa holders," Ms Vincent said.
Ineligibility for supports like the federal government's JobKeeper package meant non-residents were among those hardest hit by the the coronavirus pandemic's economic fallout.
Friday Food Safari started out as a way to experience cuisine from cultures represented in the community.
All diners got the same dishes, and effort was made to ensure menus were seasonal and authentic.
The initiative provided training and skills to people from culturally diverse backgrounds, who were involved in preparing the meals.
Meals were delivered in time for lunch on a Friday in tiffins - compartmentalised, stackable stainless steel lunch boxes often seen in India.
Businesses and organisations were the Friday Food Safari's target market.
The outbreak of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions meant the initiative changed the way it operated.
Whereas the kitchen had previously been bustling with helpers, Ms Vincent said meal preparation had fallen to the chef to ensure physical distancing.
Food was no longer delivered, but was made available for pickup at the Old Church on the Hill.
Participation was opened up to the public at large.
People interested in supporting the initiative had the option of pre-ordering.
"It's just been a steady, consistent flow of people," Ms Vincent said.
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She said people appreciated the Friday Food Safari not just for the food, but for the opportunity to connect with their community.
"People have been saying how much they're looking forward to getting it at the end of the week," Ms Vincent said.
"We're all looking forward to things changing, but it's also been great to be able to work in with community and [be] supporting where we can, and being supported."
For more information, visit lcms.org.au/fridayfoodsafari-2/
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