‘We have never seen it like this before’: Food banks prepare for worst winter yet

Food banks have said this year they are bracing for their worst winter yet, with many having to pay for the food they supply, as donations have dwindled so much.

The Trussell Trust – a charity that supports a nationwide network of food banks – has said it is expecting to provide more than one million emergency food parcels across the country between December 2023 and February 2024 – the most parcels ever provided across this period.

This means one food parcel every eight seconds and 7,000 people seeking support each day.

The Waterloo Food Bank in Waterloo Road, which is part of the Lambeth food bank partnership and is supported by the Trussell Trust, handed out nearly 40,000 emergency food parcels last year.

Ellie Wormald, 29, who works for Waterloo Food Bank, said: “We’ve not only seen an increase in need but also the severity and complexity of the issues people are facing.

“The cost-of-living crisis and increase in energy bills has been incredibly hard for people. They don’t have the money to buy the things that can keep them alive.”

While donation levels have remained stable compared to last year, the continued increase in need is leading to the vast majority of food banks having to purchase stock to make up for this shortfall. 

A recent survey of 282 food banks showed that in the last three months 93 per cent had to purchase food, at a time when prices are higher than ever, in order to keep up with the rising levels of need. 

These pressures have also led to one in three food banks reporting that they are concerned about being able to continue running at their current level in the coming months.

Ms Wormald said: “Like so many other food banks we are having to purchase food to keep stocks up – which we’ve never seen before at the same rate.

“This means using donations that would normally fund our wider anti-poverty work to buy the very basics.

“There’s a saying in the food bank world about the amounts of baked beans and pasta we used to get donated – for a long time we encouraged people to try and diversify their donations so we can cater to a diverse community.

“But the sad reality now is that we don’t even have that – the bare minimum of staples.”

Between December and February last year, Trussell Trust food banks supported more than 220,000 children nationally with emergency food, and 225,000 people who needed to use a food bank for the first time, but it is anticipated these numbers will be even higher this year.

Ms Wormald said: “The thing I probably hear the most is, ‘I never thought this would happen to me’.

“The crisis has pushed people who were getting on OK into food poverty. It’s been a huge hit to so many families.”

Food banks across the UK are urging people to donate as this winter approaches.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “Food banks are not the answer in the long term, but while we continue to fight for the change that could mean they can be closed for good your local food bank urgently needs your support.

“One in seven people in the UK face hunger because they don’t have enough money to live on. 

“That’s not the kind of society we want to live in, and we won’t stand by and let this continue.”

Pictured top: A volunteer at Waterloo Foodbank (Picture: Eleanor Bental/Trussel Trust Waterloo Foodbank)

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