AFTER six long years, Morwell’s Foodbank hub is almost finished.

In 2018, the state government committed $10 million to build two Foodbanks, one in Ballarat and the other in Morwell.

Foodbank describes the facilities as “centralised regional warehouses” that “will increase the supply of fresh, frozen foods and chilled foods to those experiencing food insecurity in the Gippsland area”.

One local organisation with pre-existing ties to Foodbank Victoria is the Morwell Neighbourhood House.

The manager of the House, Tracie Lund, told the Express the wait for the Morwell hub was a long one, but would be welcomed by local charities.

“It’s been extremely disheartening and frustrating for our community to know that the promise was there and it was coming for it to take so long,” she said.

A large percentage of the food provided by the Morwell Neighbourhood House is ordered from the Foodbank distribution centre in Yarraville, 161 kilometres away in Melbourne’s west.

“We purchase and order probably around 80 to 90 per cent of our food through Foodbank,” she said.

“Having the distribution centre open up in Morwell is a game-changer for charities and emergency food relief locally and throughout the broader Gippsland region.”

Instead of thousands of kilograms of food and grocery items being shipped from Yarraville to here, Morwell will be a hub to service Gippsland to as far east as Lakes Entrance and beyond.

“For local providers like myself it means we have more regular contact,” Ms Lund said.

The Morwell house manager said with the distribution centre so close, she would now be able to access fresh fruit, vegetables and cold fridge items to help service those in need.

The Foodbank warehouse comes at a time where demand for food relief has rapidly increased, as people continue to struggle with the rising rate of utilities, food, rent and fuel costs.

Ms Lund said the Morwell Neighbourhood House had seen a huge rise in people accessing their food services in the past year.

“By the end of last year we had seen more than 700 people more than we had seen in 2022 and that has been consistent in the last couple of years,” she said.

Food security has been identified as a big problem in Morwell and the surrounding Gippsland region.

“We know there is not enough food getting into this region and we know many charities have little capacity to store and handle large quantities of fresh, chilled or frozen product,” a Foodbank spokesperson said.

People living in regional Australia are 33 per cent more likely to experience food insecurity than their metropolitan counterparts.

Access to nutritional foods is also difficult for healthy eating in Gippsland.

In the Gippsland region, 21 per cent of parents used low-cost, unhealthy food to avoid food insecurity, compared to 13 per cent of Victorians overall.

Foodbank Victoria experienced delays securing appropriate land for the facility in Gippsland and experienced some setbacks during construction.

Additional delays have been caused by supply and worker shortages.

Foodbank Victoria expects to be able to start supporting charity partners very soon, with the finishing touches almost complete at the Morwell hub.

“With construction of the project in its final stages, we anticipate the Morwell Foodbank Hub will be up and running in the near future,” a state government spokesperson said.

“Since 2020 the Allan Labor government has invested more than $50 million in food relief, which includes significant investment in major infrastructure projects to support food relief sector’s longer-term capacity and self-sufficiency.”

The state government said they have invested in food relief infrastructure across the state, with more than $10 million for Foodbank Hubs in Morwell and Ballarat, $1 million for Shepparton Foodshare and $1 million for Bendigo Food Hub.

A Latrobe City Council spokesperson said council was involved in the early stages of planning by Food Bank, assisting the organisation to identify suitable land.

Council helped source the land and approved the planning permit for development.

A planning permit was issued on October 27, 2022 and was subsequently amended in December last year.

Though the Morwell Hub has taken its time from promise to project completion, the hub has been welcomed by local charity groups.

The Morwell warehouse will provide Gippsland with a storage capacity of about 2000 square metres.

The space will allow Foodbank to handle, store, break down, package and distribute a wide range of foods and goods to local emergency relief agencies and schools.

Foodbank in Morwell will be operated by a combination of paid staff, volunteers and government funded vocational training placements.

Food and donations from local supermarkets, wholesalers and producers will be stored in the facility.

There will also be commercial kitchen facilities to prepare meals for emergencies and for food insecure people and families.

In addition, community-based food programs such as the Farms to Families pop-up style markets will be operated out of the hub.

It is expected this hub will service selected local charity partners in the Latrobe Valley, South Gippsland and Wellington local government areas.