Bristol food bank manager responds to concern users leave with items in expensive cars

‘Drop the stereotype’
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The manager of a Bristol food bank has responded to concerns users are turning up for donated items in expensive cars - as new figures reveal a signficiant rise in demand for the support across the city.

Figures from The Trussell Trust show the charity handed out almost 27,000 emergency food parcels in Bristol in the first three months of this year, almost 60% up from the same period two years ago.

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And the growing usage of food banks, such asSt Marks food bank in Easton, has led to some questioning the legitimacy of all those collecting food.

On today’s BBC Radio Bristol morning show, presenter James Hanson read out message from one listener called Terry which said people were arriving at a food bank in Easton, then driving away in expensive cars.

It said: “This isn’t everyone, but I’ve witnessed people in St Marks road food bank come out with food and get into expensive cars, even people getting into taxis. It is a joke.”

The Trussell Trust has around 120 volunteers helping to man the charity’s four food banks across Bristol.The Trussell Trust has around 120 volunteers helping to man the charity’s four food banks across Bristol.
The Trussell Trust has around 120 volunteers helping to man the charity’s four food banks across Bristol.

It continued: “I do three jobs to keep afloat - they should do the same.”

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Andy Irwin, manager of South and East Bristol Food Bank, responded to Terry’s concern live on air.

He said he once had the same concern over a user who turned up in a new car, before later learning it had been paid for as part of benefit mobility scheme called Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

He said the lesson taught him not to be so judgemental about other people’s situation - and he urged others to do the same.

He said: “I had someone coming into our food bank with a brand new Nissan hyprid vehicle collecting food for her fanily - one or two people had commented to me and I thought this wasn’t great.

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“So I actually went back to the referrer and said ‘ I really don’t want to judge anyone, but this is what I’ve observed, what do you think?’

“And they said ‘yes, well actually, this person has a long term health condition, they’ve spent a year or so to apply for health benefits and part of the system, the PIP system, is based on how you get around... and this person had got that benefit and purchased this vehicle with that benefit to be able to do that.”

Mr Irwin also said he found many food bank users with cars were between jobs, and needing to keep their vehicle to get back into employment.

He said: “Drop the stereotype - we need to be a little more not so quickly judging people.

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“I understand the judgement because I had it myself but I just think these people ... are pretty legitimate to be honest with you..a handful that aren’t - but I’m happy to deal with a handful that aren’t for the 90 something per cent who are genuine.”

Mr Irwin said the food bank network - which has six centres including in Kingswood, Fishponds and Easton - had seen a surge in users. Among them were people who were in work and Ukrainian refugees coming to the city.

It comes as households have been hit by increasing energy prices while the cost of groceries in the supermarkets also continues to rise.

Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie said: “People are telling us they’re skipping meals so they can feed their children. That they are turning off essential appliances so they can afford internet access for their kids to do their homework.

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“How can this be right in a society like ours? And yet food banks in our network tell us this is only set to get worse as their communities are pushed deeper into financial hardship.”

For more information on South and East Bristol Food Bank, visit the network’s website here.

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