Express & Star

Soaring demand for Black Country and Staffordshire food banks

Food bank demand soared by more than 50 per cent during the coronavirus pandemic – and staff are braced for another rise this winter.

CANNOCK COPYRIGHT TIM STURGESS EXPRESS AND STAR...... 17/09/2020... Features on foodbanks and how they are coping amid pandemic. Take photograph of members of Cannock and District Food Bank. Address: Coniston Hall, Cecil Street, Chadsmoor.Pictured warehouse manager Victoria Pinter..

The biggest spike was in April during the height of the pandemic when Black Country Food Bank, which serves 23 centres in Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall, saw a 58 per cent increase in usage from 2019.

Between January and July, the Brierley Hill-based organisation served around 2,000 more people than they did during the same period last year, dishing out 169,580 meals. In April, an extra 699 adults and 346 children sought food parcels on the same month last year.

New figures reveal a similar rise in demand was experienced at Cannock and District Food Bank as well as the Good Shepherd Ministry in Wolverhampton.

With local lockdowns now in place across much of the West Midlands and furlough ending, food bank volunteers say they are expecting demand to rise significantly again.

And they say demand will come from families who have never had to seek help before, but who find themselves suddenly short of money because of redundancy.

It has led centres like Black Country Food Bank, Cannock and District Food Bank, Good Shepherd Ministry and Friends of Di’s Kitchen to appeal for more donations and volunteers to cope with an ever-increasing demand.

Jen Coleman, officer manager at Black Country Food Bank, said: “We are concerned about furlough ending. For some it will be a choice between heating and eating.

“We have seen a rise in food bank users. But we have also seen an increase in the different groups that we have been supporting.

“Due to the difficulties that the pandemic bought with it, we have been helping many families, the elderly and those with mental health issues.

“There was a sharp increase during the height of lockdown when so many services ceased – but this has reduced over the last few months.

“Some services have resumed but not all and we are anticipating another increase as the end of the Government’s furlough scheme approaches."

The food bank, based on Albion Street, Brierley Hill, caters for 23 different centres located across Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall, with each one in turn providing support to people in the local area.

It delivers food parcels lasting three-days to vulnerable people and those who have fallen on hard times.

From January to July, the food bank has served 15 per cent more of children than last year and 13 per cent more of adults.

April was the month with the highest peak with a 58 per cent increase. The organisation relies on donations from the general public.

So far, the support has been “incredible” said Jen but she has asked for more donations with the onset of a difficult winter. She added: “In terms of donations we are hopeful that the support we have already received will continue to sustain the demand.

“We certainly saw a drop in donations when people were panic buying because many of the items that were bought - such as such as pasta and toilet rolls - were items that go into our food parcels.

“However, we have seen an increase in donations since then and we have managed to provide food and toiletry parcels to everyone who has needed our help.”

Cannock and District Food Bank has utilised Coniston Hall, in Cannock, as a distribution food hub during the pandemic.

It has also operated mobile sites at Kingsmead Baptist Church, in Hednesford, Emmanuel Church, in Burntwood, and Penkridge Methodist Church, in Penkridge, to serve the wider Cannock area.

Sue Harrell, volunteer co-ordinator, says the food bank has seen a greater variety of people accessing its service. But no one is ever turned away.

“We’ve cases that touched the heart. One person hadn’t eaten for three days," she said.

“We are seeing people that have been furloughed, people in private rented accommodation and people on low income who can’t afford rent."

Adam Tilsley, who is project manager at the food bank, says the situation will only worsen leading up to Christmas.

Cannock and District Food Bank. From left to right: Adam Tilsley, Luke Pilsbury, Victoria Pinter, Sue Harrell, Daniel Regan and Angie Hart

“The statistics show the crisis of the pandemic has increased food bank usage,” he said. “The biggest crises were low income, benefit delays and a sharp rise in debt.

“The data shows us that this year we will feed far more than last year. Food poverty is increasing. Due to the crisis we anticipate it will get worse especially leading up to Christmas.”

There has been 374 new first-time users at Good Shepherd Ministry’s food bank since the pandemic began - a trend which is set to continue this year, says Tom Hayden, head of operations.

The charitable group, based on Waterloo Road, in Wolverhampton, provides the options of hot meals or food parcels to last three to five days.

“We are concerned about the current levels,” said Mr Hayden. “But our real worry is from October onwards when the furlough scheme ends and evictions potentially start to go ahead.

“This will create a double strain on our food service and also our support services.”

At Friends of Di’s Kitchen, a Wolverhampton-based charitable organisation that feeds people in need, the group has seen an increasing number of people who are reliant on its services.

It delivers food parcels every Thursday. Last Thursday, 243 parcels were sent out to 110 households across the city.

Jan Kellogg, who runs the group, says the situation has escalated during lockdown. “We are seeing people who are furloughed, or lost their jobs, or parents who are having their children at home for long periods of time,” she said.

“We are seeing numbers increase each week.”

The Trussell Trust, which operates more than 1,000 food banks across the UK, estimates demand at its food banks would increase by 61 per cent over the winter.

Its chief executive Emma Revie, said she is looking for help from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, adding: “Communities throughout the country have shown enormous resilience in helping more people than ever before. But food banks and other community charities cannot continue to pick up the pieces.

“If we don’t take action now, there will be further catastrophic rises in poverty in the future. The pandemic has exposed the power of what happens when we stand together in the face of adversity. With the furlough scheme set to wind down, we must act now to put in place protection for each other.

“The Budget and Comprehensive Spending Review presents a pivotal opportunity to put things right. We must take it to help us weather the storm left in the wake of Covid-19.”