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The global in the local: What Foodbank has taught me in one year of GLPing

While my first year of university involved many learning curves, the most relevant of these to my experience of the GLP was my emerging understanding of the phrase “the global in the local”. If I’m honest, I had never heard of this concept before 2019, let alone what it was referring to.

And it wouldn’t be before many, many (to emphasise – many) attempts at constructing a semi-decent essay plan focusing on this theme for a human geography elective unit, and an amazing volunteering experience during my first year of GLP-ing, for me to fully realise the increasing relevance of this concept to the world we live in.

However, instead of providing you with an extremely enlightening (not) extract from my geography essay, here’s an insight into what “the global in the local” has looked like in my experience.

After surviving my first semester at Macquarie, I was keen to utilise the Winter break to accrue some experiential credit. My first week of post-exams freedom was spent emailing countless Sydney organisations that offered volunteering – but a lack of responses and many automated reply emails started to ware down my enthusiasm for the endeavour. Finally, I received an almost-immediate reply to my expression of interest from Foodbank NSW/ACT, who offered a “taste-tester” of volunteering the very next day. Before I knew it, I returned to uni for Session 2 with 72 hours of volunteering under my belt.

Me packing an industrial bin for bushfire relief donations. Foodbank NSW/ACT Warehouse, Glendenning NSW, January 2020.

Foodbank operates from their Distribution Warehouse in Glendenning, NSW. As an Australian food relief organisation, Foodbank works with farmers, distributors, donors and suppliers, such as Coles and Woolworths, to save food waste and re-distribute food to those who need it most. It empowers agencies like OzHarvest and the Salvation Army, as well as grassroots organisations, to provide food to those who would otherwise go hungry due to various socioeconomic pressures. As a volunteer, I packed food orders which were then transported to regional NSW and ACT or collected by a charity representative. I also assisted with warehouse and stock maintenance as well as donation processing.

I returned to Foodbank to volunteer for three days a week during the summer break and I have sincerely valued the opportunity to give back to my local community and to meet some of the amazing staff, fellow volunteers and agency representatives.

But, how does Foodbank relate to the global in the local? Or, as the better question would phrase it, how is Foodbank the global in the local?

To start with, the need for Foodbank demonstrates a local manifestation of food insecurity. This global phenomenon has arisen in Australia partly due to the stress urbanisation has placed on food resources. The limited availability of cultivable land, coupled with a growing population that increases demand, threatens the viability of nations everywhere – and volunteering at Foodbank has proven to me that Australia is not immune.

Climate change also impacts Foodbank. Volunteering over the last Summer meant I was fortunate to see first-hand the overwhelming demand on Foodbank for resources at the peak of the devastating bushfire season. As climate change threatens to increase the frequency and severity of natural disasters, Foodbank and other organisations that provide emergency relief will face a lot of pressure to be able to support many of the affected communities.

Kathleen Notohamiprodjo, fellow GLP-er and Foodbank intern, receiving food donations from an RFS representative at the Foodbank NSW/ACT Warehouse, Glendenning NSW, February 2020. (Image supplied by Kathleen).

Working in a warehouse environment also afforded me with an awareness of the challenge sustainability presents to current working practice. The amount of packaging used for both products and transportation of orders is simply astounding, and as emerging global leaders, such first-hand experience should inspire a call to change.

And now, with the outbreak of a global pandemic, the potential challenge for Foodbank isn’t simply to have more food. It affects the ability of their partners, like major supermarkets, to continue to provide a stable quantity of resources; and may even reduce the availability of their volunteers. It also means that the most marginalised members of our communities, who are now struggling to do their basic weekly shopping, are placing a greater demand on frontline charities that in turn rely on Foodbank.

So, what have I learnt after one year of GLP-ing? Simply put, GLP-ing in your local community is just as influential, thought-provoking and important as GLP-ing in a completely different country. I hope that I have given you some food for thought (pun intended) and that you consider incorporating a local volunteer experience, such as Foodbank, into your GLP. By doing this, you will surely see that the global is, truly, in the local.

One of the many community groups who visited the warehouse to make a generous food donation for the bushfire appeal. The shelves in the background give you a small sense of just how massive Foodbank's operations are. Foodbank NSW/ACT Warehouse, Glendenning NSW, January 2020. (Image supplied by Kathleen Notohamiprodjo).

Interested in volunteering for Foodbank? Details can be found on their website. You can also check out their Facebook page here.

(Please note this article was written before the social distancing measures put in place by COVID-19)

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