By JULIUS DENNIS
The now former ARB building on the Stuart Highway is in a unique situation for Alice Springs: Not only is its occupant leaving for a grander location in town, but neither will it sit empty. In fact, a new nationwide organisation will be operating from the large industrial structure within a matter of months.
“You might notice it’s turned a bright shade of purple,” says Foodbank South Australia CEO Greg Pattinson.
Yes, Foodbank, an organisation that aims to help fill the shopping carts and then stomachs of the hungry is coming to Alice Springs.
Mr Pattinson says that the company started making moves to find a location in Central Australia in “early 2019” and started looking for a location in Alice in December 2020.
Since finding the former ARB building on the north side of town as a base, Mr Pattinson says there has been “extensive consultation with all the local community groups”, including “health groups, charities, social security sector and schools”.
The way that the operation will work is two fold: “There will be a distribution warehouse, and a ‘food hub’, which is like a small supermarket.
“The distribution warehouse will operate just like a wholesaler where local charities will be able to get their food from us. It means that they can use their government funding to do their services. It means they will be able to dedicate more of their funds to their services.
“The way the Food Hub works is, if charities have clients they want to help, what they can do is refer those families to the food hub and they will be able to shop themselves.
“For all intents and purposes, it will look like a supermarket. The only difference is it won’t be open to the general public, you must be referred.
“Fruit and vegetables and bread is always free, everything else is charged by weight — around two dollars a kilo.
“If they spend twenty dollars, they’ll get around one hundred and twenty dollars of retail value.
The Alice Springs Foodbank base will be equipped with a large cool room, where they will be able to store “five tonne of fruit and vegetables every week” that has been committed by farmers from all over the nation.
Mr Pattinson says that Foodbank’s role “is to provide a dignified way of getting key staple foods,” and will not be able to entirely replace shopping at supermarkets.
“Even if people come to Foodbank to get food, they’ll still have to go to the supermarkets, but they will be able to buy the things they weren’t able to buy otherwise.”
Foodbank’s local workforces are made up of a mixture of paid workers, volunteers.
Mr Pattinson says that there is an opportunity for the organisation to “provide training for young Central Australians.
“We generally need about six people a day to operate, so that could be a mixture of work-for-the-dole, people who want to volunteer, and the others might be trainees or might be work experience kids.
“We are talking to Woolworths and Coles about then providing jobs to people who have completed the traineeships with us in the Food Hub.”
Troy Wilmshurst (pictured), the new manager of the ARB 4×4 Accessories, the old tenant of the Stuart Highway building, who is a Foodbank volunteer himself, says the arrival of the organisation, and the growth of ARB can only be seen as an “absolute positive”.
He says part of the reason the company has been able to upsize and expand its services in Alice Springs is due to the location of the town in relation to many “four wheel drive adventures”, as well as the growth of recreational domestic travellers.
“Alice as a whole is basically in the middle. Everyone who is doing their four wheel drive adventures normally hits us.”
He says Alice Springs is a “crucial spot in Australia” for travellers across the nation.
“Wherever they’re travelling from, it’s usually a long distance.”
With the growth of two nationwide organisations in Alice Springs, this surely is an absolute positive.
PHOTO at top: Jess Wishart (2nd from left) and volunteers.