Technology for social justice

Surge in food assistance searches on Ask Izzy in the lead up to Christmas

The last two years have been challenging for all Australians, with almost no one spared from the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

For some, the impact was minimal. But for a large proportion of the population, particularly those based in New South Wales and Victoria, personal circumstances changed drastically.  

Those who found themselves either unemployed or underemployed as a result of prolonged lockdowns soon became reliant on community-based services for basic needs such as housing and food.  

Ask Izzy, our website that connects people in need with housing, a meal, money help and more has seen unprecedented demand across almost all service categories, with the website fielding over 2.3 million searches for help last financial year.  

As we approach the Christmas holidays, a season that is often more financially challenging than most, Ask Izzy has seen yet another steady increase in searches for essential services. While this is not unusual for December, data shows us that the last two years have been particularly difficult given the added financial and social stressors of a global pandemic. 

One area of support that has seen particularly high increases in demand is food. Pre-pandemic in 2018, food searches in December sat at a daily average of 877. This increased significantly during the devastating New South Wales and Victorian bushfires in 2019-20, with daily searches sitting at 1223. And now at the time of writing, searches for food assistance in December 2021 are averaging over 1500 per day.  



Foodbank Australia CEO Brianna Casey says that both Victoria and New South Wales had barely begun the 2019 bushfire recovery process when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

“The first few months of the pandemic saw demand for food services hit historic levels, with many people facing unemployment for the first time due to lockdowns and other restrictions,” says Brianna. 

According to Brianna, Foodbank saw increased demand within certain demographics as the pandemic took hold, with international students, single parent households and the recently unemployed making up the majority of “new” demand for food assistance.  

One in three of the people we provided food assistance to had never needed services like ours before – it was completely new to them,” says Brianna.  

Unfortunately, there is still so much stigma around asking for help. What we love about Ask Izzy is that it is completely anonymous, and people can find assistance in a safe environment with no judgement. This is particularly important for those who have never reached out for help before – we need them to be comfortable in getting the help they need.” 

Foodbank is only one of over 300,000 services listed on Ask Izzy, so whether a person is after help with food, housing, mental health or something in between, Ask Izzy is always free, anonymous and without stigma – something that so many people fear when they find themselves in difficult situations. 

The organisations listed on Ask Izzy are run by professional, compassionate members of the community who have in some cases needed to rely on a service such as Foodbank themselves.  

Brianna says she hopes that the pandemic will see people adjust the way they view people who rely on services such as Foodbank for assistance. 

“Empathy for those doing it tough is something I urge those fortunate enough not to need assistance to consider, especially during the holidays,” she says. 

It’s been a challenging two years, and something that we must remember is that poverty and inequality have always been problems, long before the pandemic. These are going to be problems long after we’ve seen the back of COVID-19, and we need to keep in mind that recovery is a long and expensive road.” 

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