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Opinion

Dealing with the essentials: getting busy at the food bank

17 Dec 2022 4 minute read
Foodbank picture by Andy Buchanan / PA Wire.

Emma Shepherd

It’s cold today. Really, really cold. With icy winds and slippery pavements and warnings not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary. But in the east of Cardiff, in one of our 12 sessions that run across the city each week, people haven’t been able to stay home.

They’ve had to make the journey by road or on foot to pick up emergency food from Cardiff Food Bank.

We thought it might be quiet today, but it was anything but. In fact, it was the busiest session we’ve ever had. In the two hours that we were open, we supplied food for 94 people. These are numbers that we’ve never seen before.

In April-Sept this year, we fed 42% more people than we did in the same period last year. The rise in food parcels for children was 51%. And that was before the winter kicked in. Before people needed to face the choice of heating or eating.

Not enough money

Whether they are working or claiming benefits, are single or have a large family, are old or young, are carers or people who need care, they’ve all got one thing in common – there is simply not enough money to afford the essentials. The numbers just do not add up. This is not right.

I met someone at a food bank recently who said she’d been unable to work for many years due to health issues. She’d always been able to manage on her benefits – until 2022, when the cost of everything has gone up, leaving her with no money to put food on the table once her rent and bills are paid.

I’ve met people with terminal cancer who are needing to access emergency food. We’re seeing a lot of older people, who’ve always worked and provided for themselves and their families, going back to work to top up their pensions – and still needing to use a food bank. They seem confused as to how they’ve ended up here.

All of this combined means that things seem pretty bleak – Dickensian, even. But even though we see destitution every day, we also see incredible generosity.

Every day, my inbox is full of people who want to help others in their community who are struggling – by donating time, money and food to support our work. I am utterly overwhelmed by the support we get – from individuals, community groups, businesses, schools, churches.

Awesome

I am even more overwhelmed by the dedication and passion of our volunteers. There are over 200 of them, and only seven staff. We literally couldn’t do it without them. And they are awesome.

So among all of the darkness and despair, of the people who’ve been failed by the system that’s supposed to be looking out for them, we are also surrounded by so much positivity. The food bank – especially at Christmas when people are even more generous than usual – is a microcosm of kindness, compassion and good will.

We’ve just done our big winter food drive, expecting the number of donations to drop as everyone is feeling the pinch. We got the highest volume of stock we’ve ever had.

We’ve had to close our volunteer applications, until we can place the dozens of people on our waiting list.

We’ve been able to cover essential core running costs that are difficult to fundraise for, through the amount of public donations that we receive.

Tough

All of this support is absolutely essential to get us through the next few months, which we’re expecting to be tough. We need people to keep donating and supporting us, so we can support our communities.

But the challenge for food banks is also to harness all of this positive stuff, and use it to drive change: change communities by providing wider local support to people before they reach crisis point, change minds by increasing understanding and inspiring action, and change policy by using evidence to influence government.

It’s an absolute privilege to be in this job, but we really wish that we didn’t need to be here. We gave out 12,769 food parcels last year – that’s 12,769 parcels too many.

So as well as continuing to help people in crisis in our city, we’ll also be mobilising our army of volunteers, donors and supporters to help us make change, so that everyone in Cardiff can afford the essentials. Who’s in?

Emma Shepherd is project manager at Cardiff Food Bank.


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Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
1 month ago

Anyone shop at the Co-op? If you don’t notice the divi and don’t really need it why not convert it to gift vouchers to donate to your local food bank?
Virtually painless gift giving.

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