Smethwick food bank continuing work to keep people fed
The struggles of families during the cost of living crisis has been highlighted by the work of a Sandwell emergency food bank.
The Salma Food Bank in Smethwick has been a godsend for families across the area since starting in 2016, with the Muslim-based organisation offering emergency food parcels to families in need.
With depots and pick up points dotted across the borough, the food bank has been able to help vulnerable people and families in crisis with food and other essential items, such as nappies, household items and even duvets and blankets.
However, as with so many other food banks across the region, it has been hit by the issue of demand outstripping supply, with more and more people coming to the food bank due to the cost of living crisis.
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At the warehouse on Crystal Drive in Smethwick, founder Imran Hameed and volunteer Jack Bagnall were busy filling bags with items such as boxes of cereals, tins of beans, packets of rice and other non-perishable items.
The number of bags they could put together was limited by the stock coming in, with Mr Hameed saying that that was why the food bank had reduced its opening days from five days a week to just two, opening on Mondays and Thursdays.
He said: "We've found that a lot of our donors who used to regularly donate to us are having to use the food bank and that's how the situation is, so we just don't have enough donations coming in, which has been the case since the days of Covid.
"That's why we've had to go down from five days a week to just two now, operating for four hours on each day as we just cannot keep up with demand.
"We get people coming to us out of hours and we have to tell them we can't help them, which is heartbreaking, particularly when you see mums and dads showing up and we physically haven't got the food to give them."
Mr Hameed also spoke about the increase in demand around school holidays, noting that it brought a massive surge in people needing help.
He said: "The school holidays are our busiest period of the year and we see around a 40 per cent surge in people coming to us and asking to use our service.
"They are usually looking for things they can cook up quickly and conveniently at home, so we supply them with frozen chips, rice, beans and pasta.
"We also get a lot of people from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community and we have to cater for them as we will give them a bag and they will hand back the beans as they won't know what to do with them, so we give them things like chickpeas, rice and kidney beans."
Jack Bagnall has been working at the food bank for six years and said that, on average, around 300 people would come to the food bank looking for help.
He said the level of donations was a concern and also said it was sad that there was still such a need for food banks in 2023.
"You wouldn't think there would be such a demand, especially in this area as where I grew up, I never knew food banks existed and since I started here, you start to hear what people are going through, struggling with benefits and the like and it's really sad," he said..
"The last few months, we've not been getting the level of donations we would usually get and with the amount of people coming to us, we've had to put a limit on how much food we give out because the donations just aren't there.
"However, as long as we are open and able to help people, we will continue to do so and help as many people as we possibly can."
Among the people coming to the food bank for help were Christine Borton, from Wednesbury, and Jake, from Oldbury, with both looking after two children and struggling with finances.
They said the food bank was vital for them as it helped to give them breathing room and a chance to feed their families.
Christine said: "I'm here because of my finances as I am struggling to pay my bills and I'm behind on things like council tax, so I'm struggling to get food for myself and my two children.
"This place is a godsend as it gives me better piece of mind that you can come to a food bank like this and it will really help as it feels like going to the supermarket and getting good value."
Jake said: "My wife and I are both limited on income at the moment as neither of us can work due to health issues and things are really expensive. So this is a good way of getting food for our children and ourselves.
"It's also a big relief as we have tried other places, but you have to apply for vouchers and that can take ages to come, which doesn't help when we need food now.
"It's the first time I've been down here and I came as I heard good reviews, so to come here, be seen straight away and be helped is great."
Mr Hameed said that while the food bank existed and while there was demand and the facilities to supply that demand, he would keep working to help those in need.
He said: "I started this journey in 2016 and we do care about what we do, so I would ask for anyone who can donate, even if it's just a tin of beans or by asking neighbours to help, as it will help.
"We don't want to see people going to be without food and we refuse to let anyone do that, so please come down as our doors are still open and we will be there for you."