Food banks scramble to keep up with demand

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Food banks in Birmingham brace themselves for a difficult winter as a second national lockdown is expected to further increase demand for emergency food parcels.

Aston & Nechells Foodbank
Aston & Nechells Foodbank

As the new lockdown forces businesses around the country to close, many households face unexpected income issues. Food banks fear this will lead to another surge in the number of people in need.

Janine Bowers Wild, the manager of Smethwick Foodbank, is concerned that the closure of community centres, and drug and alcohol support centres, will have a huge impact on demand as well.

“We fed 5,918 people in the whole of 2019. Since April 2020, we’ve fed over 10,000 people at Smethwick Foodbank (and another 2,000 via our partners). I’m expecting this to have risen to 20,000 by next April.”

Janine Bowers Wild, from Smethwick Foodbank
Janine Bowers Wild, from Smethwick Foodbank

The number of food parcels distributed by independent food banks across the UK in April 2020 was almost three times the amount for April 2019, according to the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN).

The Trussell Trust, an anti-poverty charity that operates a network of food banks across the UK released new numbers yesterday, showing that a total 23,389 of parcels were distributed by Birmingham food banks in their network, between 1st April and 30th September of this year — a 30% increase compared to the same period last year.

Keeping stock levels up

Many of the traditional food donation channels, such as those from schools as churches, have dried up, which means that some food banks increasingly rely on individual donations.

“Thankfully the general public have responded to the nation’s cry for help and support,” said Leon Mills, manager for Birmingham Central Foodbank.

“Birmingham Central Foodbank have received, and continue to receive many generous donations that will enable us to provide necessary food supplies for our most vulnerable,” he added.

Despite the many challenges that food banks face during this pandemic, Leon Mills is hopeful that they will continue getting the support they need:

“I believe that as long as the food banks, community groups, and community leaders articulate the need to the general public that they will respond and respond quickly and generously as this has been the pattern since and even before Covid-19.”

Even though individual donations have helped keep stock levels up — buying restrictions at supermarkets have made bolstering reserves more difficult:

“We’ve regularly got shortages of tinned meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, along with teabags, juice and coffee. The first four have had buying restrictions in place for the last few weeks,” said Bowers Wild.

Shielding volunteers

Some food banks have trouble finding enough people to handle the logistics of distributing an increasing number of food parcels. With many of their usual volunteers shielding, Birmingham Central Foodbank has lost a considerable amount of their workforce.

“Birmingham Central Foodbank and other food banks will welcome volunteer applications — especially for the busy Christmas period,” said Mills.

Running out of storage space

Storage is another challenge. Aston & Nechells Foodbank, which distributes emergency food parcels from three different locations in Birmingham, struggles to find enough space for their stock.

“One big need we do have is a new sizeable warehouse in B6, B7, or B8 areas, we are using a church hall/stage at present as our warehouse was sadly sold on and we really don’t have the space needed to keep up with the demand,” says Kerry Lenihan, one of the directors of the charity that runs the food bank.

Storage space at Aston & Nechells Foodbank
Storage space at Aston & Nechells Foodbank 

Lenihan encourages people to talk about food poverty openly: “As more people become aware, more action will come out of that.”

She also emphasises the need for deeper policy change to prevent people from finding themselves in such severe need.

“For us, you know, the best day will be when food banks cease to exist”

Information on local food banks, and how to donate can be found on the Trussell Trust website.


Full interview with Kerry Lenihan

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