Local groups offering support to struggling residents have confirmed cost of living pressures, underpinned by rampant supermarket price increases are starting to hit hard in the community. Volunteers at the Margaret River Community Pantry reported seeing a steady increase in people needing support. Co-ordinator Terri Sharpe said the number of bags of food distributed by the Community Pantry had increased five fold over he past year. “Just under 12 months ago we started distributing bags of rescued and donated food and we did around 20,” she said. “We now do over 100. In those 100, we see the entire spectrum of need through to want in our patrons.” She said the impact of supermarket price rises were compounded by increased interest rates and rents. Meanwhile, Margaret River Community Centre manager Lydell Huntly said requests for help remained steady since jumping during the past two years. “Cost-of-living pressures seem to be hitting people now as rental costs are increasing at the same time,” Ms Huntly said. She said the work of the Community Pantry was a possible reason the centre had seen no recent increase, though more residents were needing financial counselling advice, provided on-site by Anglicare. “In the past people might come to us a few times a year for one off emergency relief assistance when other big bills arrive,” she said. “But now, I wonder if more people are experiencing that financial stress on a regular basis, not just a few times a year. “Anecdotally, we would say that the affordable housing challenges and shortage of government-subsidised housing has resulted in increased financial and mental health stress.”. “This has been a reality for the last year or two.” Other volunteers said the list of people in the community needing help only seemed to grow, while local supermarket workers said they were cautioned on how to deal with customers upset by price rises. Supermarket retailers have denied profiteering from inflation, citing a reduction in pandemic-related costs for their good results, and claiming the war in Ukraine continued to bump up the price for staples. Margaret River woman Taryn Prince, who is leading a call for shoppers to boycott the majors today, Friday, June 30, dismissed retailers’ excuses. “Hopefully, if not now, but in the future, we can make a difference and we can change the way these prices are heading,” she said. Nationally Woolworths Group posted a 14 per cent jump in profit after tax to $907 million in its half-yearly results in February while Coles made a $1 billion net profit in the 2021-22 financial year. A spokesperson for Coles said teh company was “committed to helping Australians with a range of value campaigns to support customers in tough economic circumstance.” They said the company’s Smart Selling program aimed to reduce future price rises by investing in supply chains and producers. “Coles has never invested more in our customers than now,” they said. A Woolworths spokesperson said the company understood shoppers were seeking value for money and offered reduced prices on a suite of products. “While inflation remains high, we’re focused on providing competitive prices across our stores,” they said. “Due to the costs of transportation, and raw ingredients for many products, we have seen many suppliers passing through wholesale prices increases.” Ms Sharpe said local supermarkets were a big supporter of the Community Pantry, as were residents contributing to cut down food waste and to help others.