POLICE are urging residents experiencing hardship to access support agencies following an increase in the theft of small, consumable items across the Wimmera region.
Acting Sergeant Toni Chegwin said poilce had noticed a surge in the theft of items like cash, food, and fuel across the holiday period.
"Cash, fuel and consumable items are high on the list of items being stolen," Acting Sergeant Chegwin said.
"Police will continue to investigate and prosecute anyone identified committing these types of offences but understand the hardships people and families are facing.
"We acknowledge that the ... festive season can be an extremely stressful and expensive, but we are asking everyone to consider all options available to them, rather than resorting to stealing.
"Our preferred option, in partnership with support agencies, is to refer people needing assistance to our local support services and we encourage anyone requiring help to contact them.
"Most people at some time in lives will need some support, however big or small, from our local services. We encourage people who need assistance to contact the Ararat and Stawell Neighbourhood Houses, The Salvation Army, Stawell Inter-Church Council Welfare or Grampians Community Health. These services work tirelessly and can provide food, personal items and basic everyday items for our community members."
Stawell and Ararat Neighbourhood Houses both run food programs that people can access free of charge, and Ararat coordinator Lou Makin said a decision was made to keep running the program over the holiday period when the Neighbourhood House would traditionally close.
"Even though the office is closed we have had our food hub open every single day from 11am to 2pm except public holidays," she said.
"We're fully aware that over Christmas and New Year the need for assistance doesn't diminish."
Stawell Neighbourhood House coordinator Christine Dearman said all that was needed to register for the program was a concession card.
"The Second Bite program requires a registration providing your concession card on registration. The member will receive a member card along with a bag in which we will help to fill it with goods to their liking," Ms Dearman said.
"Our Second Bite program is run by volunteers and operates Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays 10:30am to 3:30pm."
Ms Dearman said the last six months had seen an increase in the number of people accessing services at the Neighbourhood House, as well as the demographic of people, and it aimed to provide a variety of assistance.
"The Stawell Neighbourhood House also houses Dignity Bags for women who are escaping domestic violence which the contents have been kindly donated by our community," she said.
"Working closely with agencies within our area we provide emergency food, blankets and toiletries.
"The Stawell Neighbourhood House houses Dignity Bags for women who are escaping domestic violence which the contents have been kindly donated by our local community.
"Through these agencies we partner with, we also provide Homeless Bags, these bags are housed on site and are for both Women and Men, each bag will have a blanket, beanie, and toiletries.
"We will also put together an emergency box of food for people in need when collecting the bag."
Horsham Community House media and projects officer Trish Maybery said dignity boxes were something that were "in the pipeline" for the service.
"We're in Horsham North and there are a lot of people up here that are having problems," she said.
Grampians Community Health has sites across Stawell, Horsham and Ararat which program leader health relationships Gemma Beavis said helped improve accessibility to its services.
"GCH provides services to the Grampians Wimmera region and to break down some barriers regarding accessibility, we have three main sites in Horsham, Ararat and Stawell, and a presence in Warracknabeal and St Arnaud," Ms Beavis said.
"For people living in isolated areas some of the GCH services provide outreach support. People can refer themselves by contacting us via 5358 7400, or coming into one of our sites."
The service provides help for those experiencing financial hardship.
"People experiencing financial hardship can access Grampians Community Health services and support such as homelessness support, family violence support and counselling including men's behaviour change, alcohol and other drug counselling," Ms Beavis said.
"We also have a home based withdrawal, and gamblers counselling services that gives people extra assistance if they need so.
"All these services are free and on high demand in our region. Last year we recorded counselling, family violence and alcohol and other drugs counselling as the top three services people were seeking support for."
"When they make contact with us we do everything we can to provide them the service they require. People can learn more about our services via our website www.gch.org.au, social media like Facebook, and through referral pathways at other organisations."
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