Food banks keeping families fed in the most challenging circumstances

Tireless work from dozens of volunteers combined with generous donations from the people of Shropshire have enabled the county’s food banks to continue their vital support in the most challenging of circumstances.

Claire Whitehead and Lucy Lewis, volunteers at Ludlow Food Bank
Claire Whitehead and Lucy Lewis, volunteers at Ludlow Food Bank

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the country last March, food banks quickly saw a rise in people needing help with food, bills and other essential resources.

Redundancies, furlough and financial hardships increased these numbers, with added pressure coming from a lack of donations as people were forced to stay at home.

But despite the growing challenges, most food banks were able to continue helping those in need without losing a single day to closure.

At Ludlow Food Bank, volunteers experienced their busiest ever year in 2020, delivering 560 food parcels to those in need, 200 more than in 2018.

Ruth Davies, head co-ordinator, said the demand was met with an increase of people wanting to help.

“This has been by far the busiest year we have ever had,” she said. “It has been amazing for the amount of people wanting to volunteer, or saying they want to donate something.

“It is very much my hope that over time we will see less and less people needing the food bank – until that day comes we will carry on.”

The highest numbers at Ludlow Food Bank were seen in March, April and December.

About 109 people, or 21.2 per cent, self-referred themselves to the food bank in 2020, compared to just 42 in 2019.

As the River Severn burst its banks last week once again, Shrewsbury’s Food Bank Plus had to deal with more than just the effects of the pandemic.

Having not missed a day through closure in 2020, volunteers were forced to relocate the service to Severnside Housing on Brassey Road on Friday their base, the Barnabus Centre in Coleham, became flooded.

Karen Williams, project lead, said: “The day was so different, we had to make a new food bank and run as normal.

“We didn’t close for one day due to the pandemic and we won’t close because of flooding.”

Volunteer Lucy Lewis of Ludlow Food Bank

The food bank, which also helps those in need with various other essential items, fed between 130 to 200 people a week on average throughout 2020 – feeding more than 1,000 people over the Christmas period.

“We’re seeing a different cohort of clients due to the pandemic,” Karen added. “People with mortgages and jobs who never thought they would need to rely on a food bank are needing help.

“It’s been a very challenging year but we’ve got an amazing team of people here.

“We’re usually planning six months to a year ahead of where we are anyway and we have regular contact with all of our donors, so we’ve been able to keep our supplies up.”

At the Telford Crisis Support Food Bank, volunteers saw a huge increase in people needing support in the weeks following the start of the pandemic.

In February, the service fed 836 people, rising to 1,200 in March and 1,500 in April.

Ollie Locker, operations manager, said: “We saw the obvious effects the pandemic was having on people.

“The start of the year was horrendous as our food stocks changed. Usually the majority of donations come through supermarket drop-off points but we saw this change as people started panic buying.”

Claire Whitehead and Lucy Lewis, volunteers at Ludlow Food Bank

But thanks to national funding, as well as support from Telford & Wrekin Council, local taxi drivers and organisations such as Bournville Village Trust, volunteers were able to keep up with the rising demand.

Ollie added: “We were very lucky to receive all the funding and support we did.

“We’re hoping this year won’t be a repeat of last but going forward our stocks are looking good and we’ve got a solid core team of volunteers who do a phenomenal job.”

In Bridgnorth, the food bank reported a 40 per cent increase in demand for help in the last four months of 2020.

Following a public appeal for support, volunteers received an influx of donations from kind-hearted residents, including double the amount of food from the drop-off point in the town’s Sainsbury’s.

The trust provided food parcels to 329 people throughout 2020, including 184 adults and 145 children from 129 families.

Food banks across Shropshire saw a drastic rise in people needing support throughout 2020 due to the pandemic

More than 110 emergency food parcels were also provided to residents in crisis.

Throughout the year, about 57,000 items of food, toiletries and other essential supplies were donated to the food bank and given to vulnerable residents.

Philip Webster, fundraiser, said: “In the last four months of 2020 we saw a 40 per cent increase in the demand for food support.

“There is growing demand as clients seek help. This has been instigated because of the Covid-19 virus, which has caused great hardships in our community.

“We can only offer this support because of the amazing level of donations made by the people of Bridgnorth and surrounding area. Without this generosity, individuals, couples and families would go hungry.”

Of the people helped, 58 per cent lived in Bridgnorth, with the rest living within a 12-mile radius.

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