According to the charity, in 2014-15 foodbanks fed 1,084,604 people nationwide. Of those helped, 396,997 were children.
My husband and I have seen first-hand the need for foodbanks in our local area. At the beginning of 2015, we set one up in our local church and it has been used nearly every week.
We have people who are homeless coming throughout the week for a meal and for some items to tide them over for the next few weeks until they can return. We have families where both parents have lost their jobs and are unable to get back into work - largely because of inherent ageism that, while illegal, is still prevalent. We have families moving into sheltered accommodation or those struggling with small benefits payments.
As with most foodbanks, we have a once-a-month limit unless it is a family we know are in absolutely desperate need, and will always direct people to Citizen's Advice for debt advice or to the local council foodbanks and help centres.
What we have learned from running the foodbank is the following:
- The people with the least money are always the most generous in giving good quality food and items
- People who have struggled in the past are more likely to be regular, generous donors
- There is always a need for nappies - and in the right size.
- Women using the foodbank need to have feminine hygiene stuff discreetly placed into their bags
- It is no point giving a homeless person food that needs to be heated up in an oven. Provide food that can be eaten 'as is'.
- Not all families eat bog-standard Western food. Provide plenty of canned vegetables, beans, chickpeas, lentils, rice, etc.
- Long-life milk is essential
- Don't forget to provide toothpaste and toothbrushes
- Always make sure the food has a long shelf life - and use up food in chronological order
- Always give the best. Do not give out of date food. Do not give 'basics' food. People in need have no choice but to use what you give them. So give them the best - what they could not afford.
It has been heartbreaking to hear some of the stories - and to have someone you know well come alongside you and explain in private tones of a huge financial struggle they've kept from other people in the church for months. So when you give, give on the premise that, but for the grace of God, you could be in this situation.
It is sad that foodbanks have to exist. Terrible to think that from 90,000 users under Labour there are now more than 1m under the Tories having to go to foodbanks. But sadly this is the reality...