Express & Star

Food banks feeling the pinch and pressure at end of school holidays

The end of the school holidays is usually seen as a time where the pressure on families begins to ease.

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Gary Price said stocks at The Well were low and asked for donations

The start of September brings with it a return to the weekly routine of youngsters going back to school and college, meaning parents will have less pressure on them to provide meals during the day, with free school meals just one of the things on offer.

However, as food banks from across the region have reported, the current cost of living crisis has kept the level of demand as high as before the start of the holidays and with no end in sight.

Both The Well in Wolverhampton and Breaking Bread in Wednesbury have been hit by larger than expected demands over the last few months as they have found more people needing help and support with feeding themselves and their familes.

The Well has been running for 17 years, having started out as a room in a church supporting 69 people and now supporting more than 69,000 people, including families and people affected by the cost of living crisis across the city, from an industrial warehouse outside the city centre.

This has included people who live in some of the more affluent areas of Wolverhampton, such as Codsall and Tettenhall Wood, and more than a third of those referred to The Well are children and young people aged 16 and under.

Co-founder and manager Gary Price said the stocks were very low at the end of the summer holidays, with everything apart from pasta and beans running out of stock, and said he wasn't sure what would come from the upcoming harvest festival.

He said: "We've always had a good stock of food and we have loads of tins of beans and pasta, but the stock of everything is low.

"Last harvest, we only got about half the food we would usually be getting as we'd normally get five or six tonnes of food at harvest, but it was down to two-and-a-half tonnes last year and I don't know why that is, although it could be people struggling themselves, with inflation making everything go up.

"The school holidays were very busy, even though it tailed off towards the end of the summer, which surprised me as people didn't have access to free school meals, but it's been very steady all the way through."

Mr Price said it was a challenging time, with more and more food banks opening up in the city, and said that while the food bank would do what it could to help people, it would be difficult at times.

He said: "We've been through these times before and it's hard when you have 40 containers with different foods we'd like to give out, but some weeks, they're half empty and we can't give out things like canned tomatoes because we've run out.

"We've noticed we're getting less and less food being left at the door and I don't know whether that's to do with there being more food projects in Wolverhampton as, at one time, there was just us and the Good Shepherd, but there's now 18 or 19 in the city.

"We are trying our best to meet the needs of people across Wolverhampton and if people can give us just a little bit of food, it's going to make a big difference to a lot of families."

Breaking Bread are looking for more donations, with manager Lin Walford saying the low number of donations was only going to get worse

At Breaking Bread, manager Lin Walford said she had never seen anything like it at the food bank, with donations low and demand continuing to rise, and said she felt it was only going to get worse even after the holidays had ended.

She said: "Usually, the school holidays are quieter, which seems strange to us, but we always do, but this year has certainly not been the case and it's been mayhem all the way through.

"I'm imagining that when the kids go back to school and people get vouchers, as I know a lot of schools have our vouchers, I think it will only get worse as we will get more people and, of course, the stock keeps getting less and less.

"We're running low on most things, apart from beans and pasta, which we have loads of, but we're definitely low on tinned vegetables, tinned meals and milk."

Ms Walford said the food bank would normally see around 60 families during the summer, but had more than doubled to 140 over August, with a larger range of people coming in, such as people on benefits, victims of domestic violence and people working.

She said the food bank would do its best to help people, but made a plea for more donations, saying that people should think about what would happen if they found themselves in need.

She said: "We need a lot of people to donate to get anywhere near the stock that we need and we do have some lovely people who take the time to donate, but it's still nowhere near the amount we need.

"What I would say to people is to try and look and what could happen to them and look at themselves as it could easily happen to them if they lose their job and can't get a new one.

"There are so many people in their situation and families who used to donate to us and now come to us for help, saying that they'd never believe they could end up in this position, so please help us to help others."