27 August 2021

South Coast restaurants reach out with generous food donations in troubled times

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Janita Fernando, Derek Philistin and Merimbula RSL chefs

Sapphire Life Opportunities CEO Janita Fernando and Merimbula RSL head chef Derek Philistin (front) with chefs and kitchen staff who prepared more than 400 meals for people in need. Photo: Supplied.

Bega Valley Shire Council’s Nourish & Flourish program has shone a bright light for the community during challenging times by diverting hundreds of freshly cooked meals to people in need.

Staff at Merimbula RSL jumped to action as a public health order for all restaurants to close saw them cooking the weekend’s ingredients into more than 400 meals for the local community pantry.

Sapphire Life Opportunities CEO Janita Fernando said the community pantry supports an average of 100 families every week, and the stay-at-home order due to COVID-19 lockdown is likely to increase that need.

“This is a huge benefit to our community,” she said. “These meals and other fresh food will mean so much to the people who are doing it really tough right now.

“We encourage anyone to contact us if they are struggling with this lockdown. We can arrange meal delivery and everyone is welcome to visit the pantry in Merimbula, which is open six days a week.”

Merimbula RSL head chef Derek Philistin and secretary manager Michael Mutsch met with council to sign up for the Nourish & Flourish program, which connects food businesses with community pantries in Merimbula, Bega and Eden.

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“We saw the ads on television for Nourish & Flourish but didn’t realise until we met with [Nourish & Flourish project officer] Sarah Eastman just how easy it was to donate to the pantry,” said Mr Philistin.

“Like most kitchens, we have a strong focus on not wasting anything, but because the lockdown was pretty sudden we do have excess. We are so pleased we can pass this food onto the pantry to support our community.”

Mr Philistin said knowing the meals are going to people in need and not to landfill is a special feeling for all the chefs, with most volunteering their time to prepare the meals.

“This is just the start of a long relationship between the RSL and the pantry,” he said. “We’ve got lots of ideas of how we can help in the future.”

Merimbula Mexican restaurant Santa Fe also donated excess food to the pantry.

Chef Chris Wilson said the restaurant was pleased to be able to donate its freshly prepared ingredients that were initially destined for weekend diners.

“Sapphire Life Opportunities does great work in the community, and it is so much better to be able to donate this food rather than it being wasted and going into landfill,” he said.

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Ms Eastman said it is inspiring to see the way the Bega Valley community has supported each other.

“This is what the Nourish & Flourish project is all about – supporting and making these connections between food businesses and the pantries,” she said.

“We are experiencing a constantly changing situation, placing pressure on families and landfill. Awareness is growing and people are realising that donating is a simple step that anyone can take.”

Ms Fernando said the Sapphire Life Opportunities community pantry is dependent on growing awareness and simple actions to help people in need.

“We are so grateful to the RSL and Santa Fe for their generosity, and for the Nourish & Flourish program which is helping us connect with more businesses,” she said.

Businesses wanting to donate to the Eden, Merimbula or Bega community pantries can sign up here, or phone Sarah Eastman on 02 6499 2222.

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