The manager of a food bank says the cost of living crisis has resulted in a worrying drop in donations - as stocks dwindle due to a sharp increase in people using the service.
Emma Murray has run the Bristol North West food bank at St Andrew’s Church in Avonmouth for the past 12 years.
The food bank receives surplus food from supermarkets and Avonmouth-based Amazon, but also the general public, either from direct donations or via the charity’s collection points.
But with the energy crisis hitting households and winter approaching, Emma says people are less able to donate certain items and the charity’s stocks are getting low.
“We are really starting to see the pinch, there has been a sharp rise in the past two weeks,” said Emma. “Certain products have all gone and we’ve just run out of coffee.
“Our stocks of toiletries has really dipped so we are now low on toilet rolls, shower gel, shampoo and deodorant. We also really need blankets and hot water bottles for people this winter.”
The dwindling stock is teamed by a rise in people requiring help from food banks. The majority of people receiving parcels of food and basic items for homes is now as high as it was in the pandemic.
“We’re not going to panic yet because, as a food bank, we’ve been through so many ups and downs and we survived Covid, which was a real challenge.” she said.
“We helped 13,000 during the pandemic, we were doing about 60 home deliveries a day thanks to help from people in the community.
“But we’re slightly concerned by the past two weeks - the outlets where people pick up food are fully booked out. It’s a significant rise and I think it will go on a long time throughout the winter.”
As well as in Avonmouth, Emma’s team have food banks in Hotwells, Henbury and Lawrence Weston, and they are all booked out due to rising demand.
“I launched this in 2010 and it started off in a couple of cupboards and it has grown a lot since then, when it was four or five people at a time.
“Everybody is referred from care agencies - we have about 300 agencies working with us, including social services, schools, doctors, the fire service, different hospital departments and anywhere else dealing with people in need.
“We try and use the system we’ve got so then we know backgrounds because we’re part of a national database and we can manage it. If somebody comes more than three times we’ll start to ask why and check they’re getting the support they need.
“Of course, we won’t turn people away if they are in desperate need but we try to work towards the root cause of the problem but that’s going to be more difficult with the cost of living crisis that faces us this winter.”
What is most striking about the mix of people using food banks is that they come from all walks of life. Emma says she sees people who had their own businesses that aren’t doing so well now as well as working people on low incomes and homeless people.
“We have quite a lot of homeless people who turn up and we have a shower, a washing machine and tumble dryer they can use. We also have tents, roll mats and sleeping bags.
“Avonmouth is an area where some people sleep rough while they’re working for the first month and waiting for their first pay packet. They might be able to find accommodation after the first month.
“We’re a bit end of the line here because of the railway. A guy last week had come from somewhere up north and just ended up here.
“We were able to give him food, he had a shower and we gave him some clothes and shoes because his had fallen apart. We told him what was available in the city centre and he’s gone on his way.
“We’re also seeing people from affluent areas like Clifton and Redland. People might appear to have problem-free lives, but people are struggling at both ends of the spectrum.
“But it’s a joy to have that mix of people we’re helping because people always think it’s people on benefits and it could be anybody - it could be us, our neighbours or your friends.”
Many of the people the food bank helps with basic furniture and electrical goods are those fleeing domestic violence and people being moved into accommodation for the first time and who have absolutely nothing.
Emma has also heard from people who don’t have a cooker or simply don’t turn it on to keep energy bills down.
“We’re seeing extra demand for pot noodles and cup-a-soups. Unfortunately, some people only have a kettle to make their meals.
“I talked to a lady the other day who has a slow cooker which she loads up and tries to cook enough for the week but she was saying she’s using everything she can.
“She’s really worried about the price rises and says she won’t be able to feed her children. People are really trying their hardest and we’re here to help.
“We say to people use us when you need us, like you would a bank and maybe pay something back in when you can.
“We quite often get people who come back months later when they’ve got a job and they’ll make a generous food donation. Those people are great ambassadors for the food bank - they want to help other people because we helped them when they were down.”