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Helping Asylum Seekers for the Long Haul

26 August 2015 at 10:43 am
Lina Caneva
Harnessing the power of the consumer dollar, shoppers are providing asylum seekers with food security simply through buying fresh, locally grown produce at market rates, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.

Lina Caneva | 26 August 2015 at 10:43 am


Helping Asylum Seekers for the Long Haul
26 August 2015 at 10:43 am

Harnessing the power of the consumer dollar, shoppers are providing asylum seekers with food security simply through buying fresh, locally grown produce at market rates, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.


The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s award-winning Food Justice Truck is a mobile grocer that offers a 75 percent discount to asylum seekers, subsidised through sales to the wider community.

“It’s the world’s first mobile retail model that specifically supports people seeking asylum,” Food Justice Truck Manager, Russell Shields said.


“We aim to be a ‘not for loss’ rather than a Not for Profit. While we generate income, we’re not about making a profit, we’re about provenance and people.”

Shields said of more than 10,000 asylum seekers in Victoria, the overwhelming majority will struggle to afford basic necessities.

“We know there’s an unmet need in relation to food security for people seeking asylum across Victoria and Australia,” Shields said.  

“Ninety per cent of asylum seekers run out of food and are unable to purchase more, which is the highest rate of any demographic in Australia.”

The Truck first set up shop at Footscray Primary School earlier this year, followed by Thomastown Primary School, and this month launched in the CBD at Wesley Uniting Church. Brimbank and Dandenong locations will soon be announced.

Shields said that an additional benefit of the social enterprise are the communities developing at their locations.   

“There’s a wonderful spirit from the sites, both Footscray Primary School and Thomastown Primary School, from the principals and teachers, and especially from the parents who shop every week. They feel a great sense of community, and a good feeling from the ethical shop they’re doing,” he said.

“Having an inclusive environment that provides a positive impact through both health and nutrition as well as social connectedness, I’ve absolutely seen that in the smiles of the families and children who come to our Food Justice Truck.

“Now we’re seeing the true impact in the amount of families turning up and the amount of food they’re taking home.”

Boasting an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, tea, bread, grains and legumes, the Food Justice Truck was purchased and fitted out with the help of $153,000 in crowdfunding from 900 donors. But Shields said the enterprise itself will run on its own income.

“Relying on philanthropy to look at this model… was always going to be a challenge. We believe in the power of the market forces and using market mechanisms to address social challenges,” he said.

“If we could turn that $20 into $80 worth of food and give them the opportunity to choose food themselves and buy food that suits them and their families, that would be the best way, the most empowering way to improve the food security for people seeking asylum.

“By people shopping at the Food Justice Truck and buying at market rates, that allows us to provide what is a loss-making subsidy for people seeking asylum.

“Ultimately, with the right ratio of customers, which funnily enough is around 50/50, we’re on track for the Food Justice Truck to break even.”  

The social enterprise model is “mission-focussed” – it’s not designed to generate income for the ASCR, but to achieve one of the organisation’s objectives in a financially sustainable way.

“This particular element of our mission is around improving the food security, so ultimately the health and wellbeing of people seeking asylum and also upholding human rights,” Shields said.

“We’re a human rights organisation and food is a basic human right, because of those parallels the social enterprise fits well within the non-profit organisation.”

No stranger to social enterprise, the Food Justice Truck is the ASRC’s third venture, along with catering and cleaning enterprises which have been operating for 10 and four years respectively.  

Shields said successfully incorporating social enterprise into a Not for Profit is achievable with a clear plan and aligning the objectives of both.

“It’s very important to develop robust, detailed and stakeholder-input business plans, and to always focus on the needs of the community that you exist to serve,” he said.

“Are they being a voice, and helping to determine and deliver the program or project or enterprise that is ultimately being designed for them? That is something that is very important and should always be at the forefront of any new enterprise.”

Food Justice Truck times and locations:

-Friday, 3-7 pm at Footscray Primary School, corner Geelong Road and Barkly Street

-Tuesday, 3-7 pm at Thomastown Primary School, Spring Street (enter via High Street or  Stewart Street)

-Wednesday, 3-7pm at Wesley Uniting Church, 148 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

-Scheduled openings in Brimbank and Dandenong to be announced soon

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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