One of the great honours one experiences as a new MP is the opportunity to see firsthand the work of people within the community who selflessly serve others. The other honour as an MP is to be in a position to put a spotlight on their work, celebrate their efforts and extend to them whatever assistance can be provided to help advance their ambitions. I want to inform the House of the work of a truly special individual within the Chifley electorate, a person who has seen beyond her constrained present to deliver to herself, to her family and now to others a future lined with that most special quality, that of hope.
A few weeks ago, John Carrigan, the Special Projects Coordinator of the Community Resource Network, introduced me to Alicia Martin, who is a resident of Marayong. Alicia has established a small not-for-profit business supplying fresh food at affordable prices to people on low incomes. That business is called Food Within Ltd. The reason Alicia has established this business is that she and her husband were paying their mortgage from their one wage while Alicia stayed at home to care for one of their children, who has special needs. Alicia tells the story of feeding the family tuna pasta night after night and thinking to herself that she needed to do something to make healthy, fresh food affordable for families like her own.
Alicia’s vision was to change fresh, healthy food back from the luxury item it had become to the necessity it should be. She approached local shopkeepers to ask if they would cut her deals to package fresh food at fixed prices that were within the reach of people on low incomes. She was knocked back but eventually found a butcher willing to help. She then started buying fruit and vegies at Flemington markets and sourced pantry items from a wholesaler. From these suppliers, Alicia was able to build a business, a social enterprise, supplying pre-packaged fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and low-fat, additive-free pantry items. Her food packs provide three meals a day plus snacks for seven days for a family of four—that is, two adults and two children.
These packs sell for $153 per week to beneficiaries and slightly more to people who are waged. The packs are planned around menus which Alicia designs based on what is fresh at the markets, and these menus are also provided and are available for other household sizes. The sale price of the packs just covers the cost of the food. Alicia cross-subsidises the food packages by delivering cooking, basic budgeting and other classes that target disadvantaged residents through the local community service agencies, and then the income she earns from the classes goes to building the business.
The underlying issue Food Within seeks to tackle is the loss of control over families’ own lives which many people on low incomes have experienced. They feel as if there is nothing they can do to change their circumstances. Food Within seeks to change that for the people who are motivated to change themselves. It offers what is effectively a scholarship program called Wings 2 Carry U. This program targets people whose financial management skills are so poor that they cannot afford the cost of the food packages. Wings 2 Carry U allows people in this situation to effectively barter their time and labour in return for a supply of the food packages.
This program starts with the packages being sold to participants at half the $153 cost. In return, participants have to barter four hours of their time. Each week during the course of the 10-week program the cost of the food packages increases by $10 and the amount of labour which participants are required to barter is reduced proportionately. This continues until participants are paying the full amount. At the same time, they are required to undertake basic budgeting and other life skills programs which Alicia provides as part of the program. The costs of Wings 2 Carry U are currently borne by fundraising activities and income from other sales and by the fact that Alicia herself contributes half the hours she gives to the business on a voluntary, unpaid basis.
Alicia’s work is increasingly recognised in Western Sydney. Last year she was a student in the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Parramatta and was named Sydney Social Entrepreneur of the Year from the inaugural year’s cohort of graduating students. Her work has been recognised by Rotary locally along with other service organisations, and she was nominated for Blacktown’s Woman of the Year for International Women’s Day.
I am proud to say that our government has supported social enterprise development through the Innovation Fund, the Jobs Fund and the Social Enterprise Development and Investment Fund. I hope to work with Alicia and Food Within to build on their special work. Besides extending to her this commitment, I—like others in the House, no doubt—want to salute her for her efforts and celebrate her for her tremendous work.