Welfare agencies in Ballarat are experiencing up to 50 per cent increases in requests for emergency relief by people who have never sought help from a service before.
They say the economic fallout from COVID-19 has led to a new demographic of people who need help to afford food and pay their bills.
Unemployed parents, stood down casual workers and international university students who are stuck in Ballarat without work or family supports are among the rising number of people seeking financial help to get through the pandemic.
It is important to recognise we will all come through this and people and services can support people in that process.Viriginia Louey, Centacare
Centacare manager NDIS, homelessness and advocacy Virginia Louey said she wanted people who were struggling financially to know help was available.
"The people I am particularly concerned about are the ones who have never needed services before," she said.
"I think they are the ones who are going to find it more challenging, because they don't know even where to start.
"If people have lost their job or there has been a substantial drop in the household income for whatever reason, contact an agency and talk to somebody to see what steps you can start with."
Ms Louey said there had been a 50 per cent increase in people seeking emergency food relief from Centacare who had never needed the help of a service before.
She said one example was a young person who was on a benefit payment and also worked casually to be able to afford her rent.
"She has lost that casual work which means she is only on whatever benefit she has got and it is just not cutting it," Ms Louey said.
"We are still early in what is going to happen but we are starting to see that movement. People are starting to come to us saying 'we are running out of money, where do we go from here?'.
"I don't think it is going to be a huge amount of time before we have more people who are struggling.
"I think we have to be very aware of people who have never needed supports before, because they may be really struggling because they just don't know what to do. That is a really awful situation."
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Salvation Army Ballarat team leader John Clonan said the services' staff and volunteers had seen similar changes in demand for food relief, particularly noting university students in a disadvantaged situation and people who had recently become unemployed.
He said people experiencing financially difficulty could access food relief from agencies to help direct their limited funds to housing payments and bills.
"We would like to get a message out to those people who may be feeling a little bit humble about approaching services that we are able to help people on low incomes and those who have become unemployed, and they won't be judged," he said.
OTHER HELP AVAILABLE: People experiencing financial hardship urged to seek help
Mr Clonan recommends people who may be feeling unsure to make a phone call to understand what support is available, including accessing food donations or picking up a takeaway main meal on a Tuesday and Thursday from the Salvation Army building.
Vulnerable people, including the elderly and people with a disability, can also access a food relief delivery service.
Centacare's Ms Louey said it was important for people to seek help early, rather than wait until there was no money in their bank accounts and no food in the cupboard.
"It is important to recognise we will all come through this and services can support people in that process," she said.
People who are struggling are encouraged to call Centacare Ballarat within business hours on 5337 8999 or Salvation Army Ballarat on 5337 0600 Monday to Friday between 9.15am and 2pm to seek support.
Other services including Anglicare and Uniting can also be contacted for assistance.
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