Gippsland Farmer Relief calls for funding

Bryce Eishold

A charity which provides more than 120 food hampers-a-month and financial support to farming families is calling for state government assistance to help the organisation stay afloat.

Gippsland Farmer Relief will today announce it is seeking funding to employ people to help strengthen and improve the scope of the organisation which has about 70 volunteers.

Between August 2018 and January 2019, Gippsland Farmer Relief gave $50,000 in groceries and $55,000 in Visa cards to farming families in need and received $115,000 in public donations, its volunteer chief executive and founder, Melissa Ferguson said.

The organisation, founded in the wake of the 2016 dairy crisis, claims its workload has tripled in the past 12 months as farmers in East Gippsland and Wellington Shire deal with one of the region’s most severe droughts on record.

Ms Ferguson and member for Morwell Russell Northe will today call on the state government to provide $1.2 million dollars for a two-year pilot program to ensure the organisation can meet the need of its famers.

“We badly need funding because 100 per cent of our public funds go to farmers,” Ms Ferguson said.

“We’re a professional organisation in need of funding and we’re a potential Latrobe Valley employer as well.”

“In total we have about 70 volunteers but there’s some people who work full-time in our office, including me, who dedicate their life to it and work extended hours.”

Ms Ferguson said the organisation, which is registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, had “high governance standards” and was “transparent” and willing to offer reports on donations and how money donated to GFR was spent.

“We want to pay our full-time volunteers, those who run the organisation I guess, from administration to management,” Ms Ferguson said.

“On a monthly basis we provide a food hamper of up to the value of $230, and also additionally we give out visa cards and we have a mental health referral service that visits the farm.”

Member for Morwell Russell Northe said funding would ensure the organisation could continue to deliver the services it was providing farmers across Gippsland.

“Essentially it’s enabling the employment of multiple staff to not only run the administration of Gippsland Farmer Relief, but making sure there’s a sustainable model in place for the organisation going forward,” Mr Northe said.

“This is a simple message to the government and to the minister for agriculture that we need to be supporting those organisations who are supporting our Gippsland farming families.”

Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said she would be prepared to meet with Ms Ferguson to discuss how the government could assist farmers in the region.

“Anything that can make life easier for Gippsland drought-affected farming families is always encouraged and I would welcome a meeting with Gippsland Farmer Relief,” Ms Symes said.