By KAT MULLARD
THE message is in from our charity and welfare agencies ? you may have to wait to get assistance.
"Don't come in today and expect that you will get a food voucher. The food in our cupboard is almost non-existent ? we have to tell people to come back later," Coffs Harbour Salvation Army Welfare Office, Diane Walters said.
Welfare and charity agencies on the Coffs Coast are struggling to meet the skyrocketing demands of a population in need, and we are not alone, as national trends are showing that welfare agencies were forced to turn away more than 93,000 Australians who sought assistance last year.
"I cannot believe the amount of people who are being referred to our agency in the past three weeks. It's like standing on the banks of a river with a tidal wave rolling in," Ms Walters said.
"Yesterday was a bad day. I had 20 people walk in, and that's not counting the people we gave morning tea to, and about another 20 on the phone."
Even under increasing pressure, Ms Walters said they haven't as yet had to turn anyone away, crediting this miracle to divine intervention.
"Somehow we're meeting all the demands ? God must have a hand in it. If we can't help them straight away, we can at least give them bread that we get from Brumby's, so they don't go away empty handed," Ms Walters said.
She said they help a lot of people who fall through the cracks of the system, such as people who are long-term unemployed, and parents struggling to get back into the workforce when their children turn 16, but she said she was also worried about the amount of new clients they are seeing.
"We see people who have to manage on less than $200 a week, living in rented prem- ises. People get overwhelmed, and wake up with no hope ? you've got to keep them going," she said.
Ms Walters also said it was a hard time of year financially for a lot of people, which impacts on welfare agencies.
"When things are tight that's when demand is high, we get fewer donations because it is tight for most people this time of the year."
The Salvation Army are not the only organisation under strain, with Coffs Harbour St Vincent de Paul Society also reporting an overwhelming increase in demand.
"In the past six months demand has more than doubled. Seven months ago is we saw four or five people a day, that was bad, now we see upwards of 15 clients," conference work- er John LaBron said.