Local food banks see ‘major’ rise in demand

We have been getting at least four walk-ins a day and we’ve had ten new referrals in the last two to three weeks.
By Victoria Munro

A food bank in Waltham Forest (credit: Waltham Forest Council)
A food bank in Waltham Forest (credit: Waltham Forest Council)

Local food banks are reporting a “major” increase in demand, particularly among working families who have never relied on them before.

At the same time, more fortunate residents are finding themselves with less spare income to donate, forcing some charities to scale back services.

In July, Waltham Forest Council cabinet member Vicky Ashworth said more than 11,000 residents were regularly using local food banks, calling it an “absolute travesty”.

However, multiple food banks told the Echo they have seen numbers grow in recent months and expect things to get even worse as winter continues.

Syed Shafi, from the Cann Hall Masjid food bank, said the number of families they support had “nearly doubled” in the last three months, adding: “We’re definitely seeing people that weren’t struggling before.

“I don’t think it’s going to get less soon, I think it will increase, and that’s definitely not good, it’s worrying.

“In the last two months, we also helped a couple of families with young kids who didn’t have basic things like beds, freezers or tables. It’s so sad seeing people in this country, our local people, suffering like this.”

Tracy Rogers from Highams Park Food Aid said a decline in donations had left the charity “juggling balls in the air” and forced to make difficult decisions about how to best use their limited funds.

While they have gone from supporting around 50 families at the start of this year to about 80 last month, she noted this was after taking 20 families off the register temporarily to ensure they could support them this month.

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She told the Echo: “It’s very difficult to make a judgement on whether somebody needs it or not and how long they need it for. We’re having to look at demand and try to get people coming every other week and see if they can cope without.

“We have been getting at least four walk-ins a day and we’ve had ten new referrals in the last two to three weeks.

“There’s very little help and support in the north of the borough because of the perception that the area is well-off but that’s just not the case. We still have pockets where people are really struggling.”

At Rukhsana Khan Foundation food bank, one of the borough’s largest, the line on some Saturdays “reaches out to the end of the road”, according to founder Jahangir Khan.

The foundation now supports up to 125 families in just two hours every Saturday, whereas at the start of this year it would have seen around 100 and, pre-pandemic, only 50.

Jahangir said: “What’s happening now is that it’s not just people on benefits but people in what you would class as good jobs, who are finding it hard to make ends meet.

“They have never needed to use a food bank and are now feeling that they need to so they can put that money towards their energy bills.”

He said that, while the support from the community and the council has been “fantastic”, a lack of funding had still forced the charity to stop offering weekly hot meals earlier this year.

He said: “Our costs went up because of the price of food and, after Covid, our donations dropped by around 90% pretty rapidly.

“People are struggling now and the first thing they cut back on is donations, which is understandable because the first thing you have to look out for is yourself and your family.

“But the community has been really good in supporting local organisations and that support should not diminish, especially over the coming months. It’s going to be a very difficult period.”

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