Reality of life at Merseyside food bank where stock is at ‘historic low’

A Merseyside food bank has seen its stocks of key items hit an all-time high as the country faces a cost of living crisis.

Last weekend, St Helens Foodbank said its stock of sugar, milk and juice – all key items for the food parcels it supplies – was at an all-time low.

The organisation, which has six food bank ‘centres’ across the city and is run in partnership with the Churches of St Helens, the Hope Center and the Trussell Trust, took to Twitter asking for additional donations.

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Having served more than 900 people last month and anticipating a similar level of demand in the weeks to come, the food bank will not be able to operate without donations.

Sophie O’Neill, volunteer coordinator at the food bank, spoke to ECHO about recent stockouts and the challenges the organization is facing.

She said: “The food parcels that we put together are based on a list that Trussell Trust provides to us.

“It has been nutritionally balanced to provide a three-day food parcel for people in crisis.

“Some of the essential things that we put out – juice, milk, sugar, canned fruit, jam, rice pudding – are things we just don’t get a lot of donations for.

“It really impacts what people can do with the food they get, but it also misses key nutritional food groups and different ways for them to enjoy the food they get.”

“Food banks aren’t just for pasta, beans and soup. We need to make sure people have a diverse range of ingredients and items that they can feed themselves.

St Helens Foodbank has been around for 10 years. It fed 906 people in December, including 375 children.

The number of people using food bank services has increased over the past 18 months. This is due to a number of reasons – including reduced Universal Credit payments, an increase in the cost of living and economic pressures from the coronavirus pandemic.

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Sophie said: ‘At the start of the pandemic we had lower numbers as there were so many amazing community projects across St Helens providing extra support, but now we are seeing that number slowly climbing to 900, maybe even be 1,000 people in a month.

“We’ve had so many customers come to us and tell us that the reason they’re in crisis is because the Universal Credit boost has been taken away from them.

“To some people, £20 a week doesn’t seem like a lot, but it really had a huge impact on what families could afford while they had it.

“For him to be removed, they really struggle.”

For eighteen months from March 2020, Universal Credit claimants have received a £20-a-week increase in their payments to help them cope with the additional financial hardship brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The uprising ended in October 2021. The government was criticized for not making it permanent, but maintained it was always intended as a temporary measure.



Volunteers at one of the six food bank centers in St Helens

With inflation nearly 30 years away, UK residents facing higher National Insurance payments and the prospect of a further rise in energy bills when the government reviews the energy price cap, the many people’s financial situation will worsen in 2022.

According to recent forecasts, energy bills could increase by 50%, forcing some households to choose between heating and food.

Due to this cost of living crisis, the Resolution Foundation recently said that every household can expect their spending to rise by £1,200 this year.

Sophie said the rising cost of living will have a detrimental impact on people helped by the food bank.

She added: ‘There doesn’t seem to be a lot of support for low income people or Universal Credit.

“Their gas prices are going up, their electricity prices are going up, all the other costs for them are going up, but their income is not going up – in some cases it is going down. We really had to look at what we can do as a food bank to provide additional support.



The food bank provides approximately 900 people per month
The food bank provides approximately 900 people per month

“We have citizen councils on financial inclusion in each food bank center, and we have also decided to partner with the Fuel Bank Foundation.

“This means we can issue customers who are really struggling with gas and electricity prices a fuel bank voucher which allows them to top up their prepaid meter without it being taken off any debt they have, so the money goes straight to heat them.

“We had to make these changes to be more flexible and provide additional support, but we are going to have to find other ways to provide this because the situation for them is not going to improve, the way society is continuing in this moment.”

Running out of stock and looking for ways to provide needed support to St Helens, the food bank has received help from other organizations in the city, including Cowley College, who are asking staff and students to make donations as February approaches. mid-term.

With the food bank facing these challenges and requiring more donations to operate, Sophie added: “People need to understand that there is no typical person who uses a food bank.

“These are people from all walks of life who find themselves in a short-term crisis and need a little support to get through it.

“We always say you’re just a paycheck away from being in crisis and needing food bank support and that could be any of us.

“We want to make sure people feel supported and have some hope when they come to see us. Not just with food but with everything we provide.

“Being able to give them a full food package so they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from is something very important to us.

“I really hope this message resonates with people so we can increase donations and make sure people get a little package of food and happiness when they come to our house because you never know if it might be you.”

St Helens Food Bank is based at the Hope Center on Atherton Street. You can find the location of its hubs by clicking here.

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