The chilling of charity

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The cost of giving: Catholic charities – among many other Australian charitable agencies – are being hit harder and harder by major price rises, affecting their ability to provide vital services to those most in need. Photo: PEXELS.COM

Seemingly never-ending price hikes are taking their toll on our vital charities

A number of Catholic charities are bracing for the impact of a barrage of petrol and other price hikes on essentials on their services.

Financial experts expect inflation to rise dramatically due to soaring energy prices and the ongoing supply chain woes caused by the pandemic and the Russian-Ukraine war.

At the same time Queensland and New South Wales farmers are warning that food prices may be further pushed up after this month’s flood disaster.

Charities are concerned that the rising costs of living will hurt the poorer hardest, but some will themselves face increasing pressure to make ends meet.

Smaller providers serving thousands of people each week on the smell of an oily rag and with no ability to save up cash reserves will be in trouble if inflation outstrips government funding and charitable donations.

Monique Earsman, executive director of Catholic Social Services, a network of Catholic organisations providing social services, said that some smaller providers will be forced to make tough decisions between providing services at a loss or providing fewer services.

“When providing funding, governments need to understand the true costs of service provision, including compliance costs and other overheads,” she said.

“A failure to do so will mean providers will need to eventually withdraw from providing services, meaning fewer providers in an already overstretched market. Rural and remote clients will be the biggest losers.

When providing funding, governments need to understand the true costs of service provision, including compliance costs and other overheads.”
Maureen Easman, Catholic Social Services

“Our clients will also struggle to meet the cost of inflation on essential household items, such as petrol, which means they will need to reach out more regularly for help to make ends meet.”

Fuel prices were already at record highs before Russia’s war on Ukraine sparked a surge past US$100 a barrel last week while supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths have warned that inflation increases and pandemic supply chain issues would force them to pass on some higher costs to customers.

The United Nations’ Food Price Index reported global food prices were up as much as 20 per cent on the year before, while Australians are looking at $2 per litre at the pump as a new normal.

There are also fears Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will send wheat and barley prices soaring.

The Catholic Weekly spoke to some Sydney charities who said while they are confident they will continue to serve the city’s most vulnerable people, agreed that they are not themselves immune to the rising cost of living.

Carrie Deane, Community Manager of Canice’s Kitchen in Darlinghurst, said running a daily meal and social services homeless outreach on a shoestring budget means that any price hikes will be keenly felt.

The cost of petrol is up by almost half – 40 per cent. This factor alone has a huge impact on the ability of charities to provide services assisting those most in need. PHOTO: PEXELS.COM

Price hikes hit our charities

Problem: it’s getting harder and harder to help those on the margins

“We’re small but able to deliver a lot, due to wonderful volunteers and local support,” she said.

“But I still spend a lot of time on securing funding to cover staffing and other daily operating costs. Usual inflation rises on top of that is something we must think about and will have to make work.”

Ms Deane said that securing some COVID-related government funding had helped, particularly early in the pandemic but estimated that additional costs as a result of COVID were in excess of $150,000.

Marcel De Maria is chief executive officer of Gift of Bread. It supports dozens of fellow charities by supplying thousands of loaves of fresh bread each day rescued from supermarket chains and bakeries, in partnership with a number of Sydney Catholic parishes.

“We had a pandemic payout from the government initially but that money is now gone,” he said.

Steep petrol costs are already affecting them as well as a loss of around $20,000 in sponsorship over the last year due to knock-on effects of the pandemic on benefactors.

“It costs us around $300 a week to keep the vans on the road in fuel alone,” Mr De Maria said. “We’re fortunate to have generous benefactors and we are still going well and will continue to serve, but we do feel the effect both of rising costs and increased need due to the pandemic.”

Brother Stephen Tran OFM Cap said that The Friars Van, an outreach of the Capuchin Friars with young adult volunteers based in Leichardt “could certainly do with some assistance” as it operates purely through the generosity of donors.

“As a small operation the costs of running our ministry is relatively low,” Br Stephen said, but the petrol, registration, insurance and maintenance costs of the vehicle “are noticeable”.

Charbel Azzi is the chairman of Maronites on Mission Australia which operates two weekly food van outreach programs in Sydney and Parramatta, as well as a home visit program and overseas missions.

He said they are blessed with generous benefactors but as most are small businesses and families, price hikes may have a ripple effect on what is donated.

“There’s a limit to our resources and unfortunately we’re living in times when costs are going up. If donations became more scarce that would mean that we can’t help as many people as we’d like to,” he said. “Thankfully a lot of our donors are donating food and that gives us a bit of protection from these times.”

A NSW Government spokesperson told The Catholic Weekly that it considers a range of factors when determining funding.

“The Government understands the challenges facing the sector and businesses more broadly and has introduced a number of programs to help NFP organisations with the cost of doing business,” the spokesperson said.

These include the Small Business Fees and Charges Rebate, which is being increased from $2,000 to $3,000, to help businesses recover from the impacts of COVID-19 and reduce the cost of running a business, and the Government’s Business Connect program which offers free advice to support businesses and NFPs to navigate COVID-19’s challenges.

“The Service NSW Business Concierge also provides tailored information relating to specific circumstances,” the spokesperson said.

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