At 9:30am, shaded from a blazingly clear November sun, a crowd has gathered at the Tin Shed at the St Albans Community Youth Club, on Main Street East, a block and a half down from St Albans Station.
The unmistakable aroma of the monthly sausage sizzle draws early birds hungry for a free snag or veggie burger on white sliced bread - tomato sauce and fried onions optional.
Those waiting reflect the diversity of Brimbank, with a wide spectrum of ages and ethnicities.
The sunny weather and barbecue has people in an upbeat mood. But for many this is the first meal of the day.
The rising cost of living has hit Brimbank, Victoria’s third most disadvantaged municipality, harder than most. Many here at The Tin Shed struggle to put food on the table.
Aside from the barbecue, the main attraction this Tuesday morning is the food bank.
Doors open at 10am. Around 60 hampers - which include fresh vegetables, tinned goods, rice, frozen meat, half a dozen eggs and a frozen 2L bottle of milk to help keep it all cool - provided by Uniting Care will be given out today.
“People come in a three-week rotation,” explained James Dredge, 59, manager of the Tin Shed. They are at full capacity. While funding increased during the worst of the pandemic, the Tin Shed is now operating on the same budget it had pre-Covid.
After waiting in line at this Heritage-listed former World War II army barracks, health cards are presented and personal details taken. In exchange, attendees leave with their groceries and a voucher for a mobile food bank the following Thursday morning at the St Albans Secondary College car park.
Various support services are set up along a row of tables. They include the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing; not-for-profit cohealth, which offers drug counselling; the Salvos; and IPC Health, which offers mental and physical health services for those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Occasionally visitors mix up their dates and have to wait for a week or more.
And with limited supplies, some are knocked back. It’s all relative: aged pensioners who own their own home, for example, are probably less needy than a renter on the lower unemployment benefit. But then there are those who may not even have a roof over their head.
“We can’t do any more than this,” Dredge said. “There’s always new people.”
Today, 12 recipients of care packages were first time visitors, including a refugee from Ukraine, and 51-year-old John (not his real name).
John told *PS Brimbank: “I’ve never been to a thing like this. My bail officer got me to come to get me out of my comfort zone.”
He said he recently served two months in prison for breaching an intervention order. He cycled over to the Tin Shed with his housemate, Kevin, 52, from their rooming house.
The house is partitioned into seven rooms, which cost $220 each a week. There is no communal living area, a shared kitchen, and more rooms in a bungalow out the back.
John has always lived in Melbourne’s west. Before St. Albans, home was King Park. “I was living with my wife, went cuckoo, and now here I am.”
The crowd thins and the sausage sizzle supplies are running low. An elderly man and his wife, in a headscarf, wait patiently and then accept a pair of veggie burgers in bread, folded into paper serviettes.
When approached by *PS Brimbank, the man declines to give his name and is hesitant to talk.
“I am full to here”, he said, pointing to his head. “I am full to here,” he added, touching his chest. “I came from Egypt for my kids’ future. I was a maths teacher in Egypt.”
He spoke about the lack of employment, foreign call centres, the fact that he paid thousands of dollars to install solar panels, only to receive cents for electricity bought back by the grid.
Meanwhile, John and Kevin are loading their bikes and sorting through their packages. The men offer items they do not think they will be needing: a bag of rice to an elderly Vietnamese woman in a non la (conical palm leaf hat), a bag of dried chickpeas to the Egyptian man and his wife.
As Kevin watches the man and his wife push their wheeled shopping bag away from the Tin Shed he said: “Well, you know - he’s probably got kids.”