A sharp increase in loneliness and food insecurity is yet another sad fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many Australians finding themselves asking for the help of nonprofits for the first time in their lives.  

According to the Australian Psychological Society, one in four Australians were struggling with loneliness in 2018. New research by the Swinburne University of Technology shows this has risen to one in four during the pandemic.  

The 2020 Foodbank Hunger Report tells us that, in 2019, 15% of Australians experiencing food insecurity were seeking food relief at least once a week. In 2020, this had doubled to 31%. Within those numbers are new cohorts of people struggling for the first time – particularly the casual workforce and international students – with almost a third of the Australians experiencing food insecurity in 2020 having never experienced it before. 

A new campaign, launched this month, will use food, cooking and the act of sharing a meal (with a household member, with friends, or over FaceTime – depending on your lockdown circumstances!) to create a sense of connection, while fundraising for food rescue charity, OzHarvest 

Running throughout September and October, #Cook2Connect is a digital campaign, coordinated by MGI Entertainment, bringing together Australia’s most-loved culinary figures to remind Australians about the benefits of mealtimes.  

The campaign’s platform – Plate for a Mate – features videos of Australian chefs sharing restaurant-quality recipes for home cooks. With a focus on dishes designed to be shared, the recipes help Australians reconnect with family and friends over a meal.  

Chefs include Manu Feildel, Poh Ling Yeow and James Tobin who share simple, tasty recipes, from smoothies, to pizzas, to decadent desserts. The campaign has also secured the support of several sponsors, including Perfection Fresh, D’Orsogna, Kenwood, Nature Nate’s Honey, NH Foods Australia, Patak’s, and TEFAL.  

The home cooks – and the people enjoying their meals – are encouraged to donate to OzHarvest. Last year’s campaign raised $40,000 for OzHarvest, providing 300,000 meals for people living with disadvantage.  

OzHarvest’s Head of Impact, Ashley Killeen, said there has never been such a high demand for food relief in Australia, with OzHarvest experiencing a 47% increase in demand over the past 12 months. Recent media from Canberra reported that it has been necessary for the charity to buy food for the first time due to demand from struggling Australians and a shortage in its normal supply of excess food as a result of venue and hospitality closures.  

“The last year has been challenging for everyone and we’ve seen so many new people turning to charities for the first time in their lives. The generosity and support from the community has been amazing and we are so thankful for MGI Entertainment and the #Cook2Connect campaign, helping to raise valuable funds. Every dollar donated allows us to deliver two meals to Australians in need.” Ashley said. 

OzHarvest was founded in 2004, by Ronnie Khan AO, who was disturbed by the level of food waste she could see around her. Starting with one van in Sydney, she started rescuing food and delivering it to local charities. With 13,311,880 kgs of food diverted from landfill and 48,602,772 meals delivered to vulnerable people since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia, the organisation – which now operates nationally, with its model shared to New Zealand, South Africa and the UK – has come a long way since its humble beginnings.  

At a time when many of us are separated from those we yearn to share a meal with, we can be grateful for organisations such as OzHarvest who are working tirelessly to ensure that every Australian has enough food to eat. 

To find out more, donate and access delicious recipes to share with your loved ones (or just with yourself!), visit https://www.plateforamate.com 

This article was originally published by Fundraising & Philanthropy, you can find the original here.