Lentil as Anything has been supporting vulnerable communities in Victoria and NSW for the past 20 years by offering vegan food on a pay-as-you-feel basis, as well as job-skill and training programs.
They have gained direct experience in dealing with food security and mental health issues and recognise that the impact of the current coronavirus pandemic will be hardest felt by the weakest and most vulnerable. In response to this they are launching "Together as Anything - a community response to the Coronavirus Pandemic".
Media release from Lentil as Anything
The rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in Australia, along with fears of an imminent lockdown similar to those in Italy and France, has many people asking how they will pay their bills, feed themselves and their families and find social interaction.
This question is compounded for those already in vulnerable circumstances. Single parents, casual workers, those with disabilities or chronic illnesses, the elderly, homeless, socially excluded or financially insecure are all at greater risk of both infection of COVID-19 and potential long-term follow-on effects such as increased financial insecurity and isolation.
One charity, based in Melbourne and Sydney, has developed a number of solutions to continue providing nutritious food and social support to its community. Through its Together as Anything - Coronavirus response program, not-for-profit restaurant chain Lentil as Anything has developed an online ordering system and amassed over 100 volunteer riders and drivers to deliver meals to those in need. Its Catering business - an important source of funds for the charity - has also developed a set of vacuum-sealed meal options for organisations to order for their staff working at home, or for individuals to buy and store for safe-keeping.
Lentil as Anything has seen its patronage remain relatively stable over the past few weeks, even as many other restaurants have experience significant declines. However, average donations to the charity, through it's "pay-as-you-feel" donation stations have fallen by more than 50%. "The drop in average donations shows that people are either worried about their future income or already feeling the effects of lay-offs and reduced work hours. The people coming to us at the moment seem to be those that need the service the most. Some people don't have the luxury of being able to self-isolate right now," says Samuel Rowe, manager of Lentil's Thornbury restaurant.
Lentil as Anything hopes to continue serving customers as long as it is legally allowed to operate. Its thousands of volunteers have also continued to offer their help with food rescue, catering delivery and take away services to make sure the community can continue to access nutritious food while self-isolating or out of work.
Part of the goal of the Together as Anything campaign is to provide an opportunity for volunteers to check up on vulnerable members of the community. Around Australia, people are being urged to contact those around them who may not use social media and let them know about initiatives in their area, as well as simply checking up on their neighbours. Many community groups have been overwhelmed by offers of support, a reflection of the resilience and generosity of the Australian community as a whole.