AS a former single parent who struggled to feed and clothe her children, Pastor Gally Dakers says the Hope Centre does not just look at the food, but also the people.
"I've been down that road, to the point of having to ask for help," she said.
"I felt embarrassed; that's why I was determined to change that."
Pastor Dakers and husband Jeff later established the House of Hope Food Barn, which has since expanded to the Hope Centre at Warrawong.
Since operations commenced in October 2007, more than 70,000 people have ben-efited from the Food Barn's services. The service is available to anyone in receipt of a Centrelink benefit, who falls in the low-income bracket or experiences financial hardship.
Food is donated by Woolworths and IGA stores, as well as the SecondBite with Coles program.
They also run school breakfast and lunch programs.
Clients are referred by agencies such as Anglicare, Mission Australia, Centrelink and St Vincent de Paul.
New research estimates 45,000 households using Anglicare Emergency Relief services don't have enough money to adequately feed their families.
Of this group, adults in 22,000 households go without food for a whole day, most weeks.
Flinders resident Tina Kelliher is a long-time Food Barn client. She said the high cost of living meant food was unfortunately the one discretionary aspect of the household budget.
"The price of bills and groceries makes it just too hard to afford things," the 47-year-old mother of three said.
"Rent goes up, power bills are astronomical. Food bills are secondary to everything else.
"Food takes second place to a lot of things."
Pastor Dakers said some would go days without food. She understood their reluctance to use the Food Barn. "I had a teacher come in yesterday, who can't continue to work and has a son," she said. "She was embarrassed."
She said an inability to feed the family was particularly difficult for men, whose self-esteem took a major hit if they were unable to provide.
Pastor Dakers said poverty did not discriminate.
"A lot of people [are] being retrenched; they're not just struggling because of things like addiction or divorce," she said.
"Something has gone wrong and people have hit hard times.
"It can happen to anyone.
"The poverty is really profound in the Illawarra.
"It could be your next-door neighbour and you wouldn't even know, as people are ashamed."
Pastor Dakers expected a 30-40 per cent increase in demand for their services from now until Christmas.
The centre is at Unit 6, Kemblawarra Business Park, 243 Shellharbour Road, Warrawong.
Phone 4274 3837 for details.