'Down to last few coppers' - shocking truth behind huge foodbank demand

A volunteer sorts through the food at the St Mary Magdalene Church foodbank in Gorleston

A volunteer sorts through the food donations at the Gorleston foodbank - Credit: Matthew Price

Being in refuge after a nasty break-up was difficult enough for a mother of three.

But a car crash, leading to a leg amputation, meant she lost her work income - leaving her family in a perilous position.

The mother, who did not want to named, is one of countless people who have seen Covid and other factors push them to the brink of despair and going hungry.

She is also one of countless people who have reason to be grateful for foodbanks.

For she received support from the St Mary Magdalene Church foodbank in Gorleston. 

She said: "Losing my job and then having a series of things go wrong throughout lockdown with no PIP money was just horrendous. I was literally down to my last few coppers each week. 

"I was really too proud to ask for help but it got so bad I just needed something." 

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Her children, aged 18 and 13, were able to receive hot meals thanks to the foodbank. 

A volunteer at the St Mary Magdalene Church foodbank in Gorleston.

A volunteer at the St Mary Magdalene Church foodbank in Gorleston - Credit: Matthew Price

The Rev Matthew Price and 60 volunteers have stepped up to provide help to those in need, catering for dietary requirements and vegetarians as well.

Revd Price said the church, which hosts one of the depots of Great Yarmouth foodbank, had seen an increase in families needing support during the pandemic.

"We are the sixth most deprived area in the county," he said. "People were living on the edge just about managing but the pandemic suddenly tipped them over that edge.

"There was a phone call from one lady who had got herself into debt and had been visited by the bailiff, while another single mother with a 12-year-old told us she did not need benefits but had literally no food left in the house. We assured her she would be sent a food parcel." 

The reverend Matthew Price of Gorleston's St Mary Magdalene Church has been leading one of the Great Yarmouth foodbank...

Revd Matthew Price, vicar of Gorleston's St Mary Magdalene Church is pictured on the right with a volunteer - Credit: Matthew Price

Gorleston resident and volunteer Julie Hanks, 63, added: "It really ramped up when the pandemic first started. We have had a massive amount of requests which is quite an eye-opener really.

"People and supermarkets have been so generous with donations. The pandemic shows a different side to people and has made us all look at life differently. I love being a part of this team."

Elsewhere in the county, both Norwich Foodbank and King's Lynn Foodbank have seen an increase in families needing support during the pandemic. 

Statistics from the end of January show Norwich Foodbank is helping 22 per cent more people compared to this time last year. 

The number of volunteers was around 200 before the pandemic, but that halved in two days with people shielding or not feeling comfortable going out during the first lockdown in March. 

A hive of activity at the St Mary Magdalene Church foodbank in Gorleston, which is led by the reverend Matthew Price

A hive of activity at the St Mary Magdalene Church foodbank in Gorleston - Credit: Matthew Price

Project manager Hannah Worsley said the foodbank's 10 distribution centres closed and they moved to a delivery model due to Covid restrictions. 

She said: "We thought it would be busier and we were prepared. We were able to meet every request. The supply has met demand.

"We have seen a lot more families, which is around half of our total. The number of single people has gone down to 40pc. We are also seeing a lot more people come for the first time.

"Many people are on furlough so their income has reduced, while heating and fuel bills have really drained a lot of people. We hear people say 'I never thought I would need to be here'." 

The project manager recalled one couple, both in their 60s, being left with just £5 on their gas and electric meters having both recovered from Covid. One had undergone an operation as well. 

Project manager Hannah Worsley . PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Project manager Hannah Worsley . PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Another young family were in a perilous situation as the woman was not being paid at the time as she was working towards a nursing qualification, while her partner was furloughed and saw his income dramatically reduced. 

Hannah Gilbert has been manager of King's Lynn Foodbank for nearly 18 months. She saw massive peaks during the lockdowns with 700 people coming in March and April, in addition to just over 600 people during November.

"In normal circumstances, if we had anywhere near 500 that would have been a big month for us," Mrs Gilbert said.

The monthly average for 2020 is 506 compared to 335 in 2018. Mrs Gilbert said 2019 numbers were a "little skewed" due to the rollout of Universal Credit across King's Lynn, which saw a monthly average of 470 for the year.

Volunteers at Norwich foodbank get ready for the big demand over the festive season. Project manager

Volunteers at Norwich foodbank get ready for the big demand over the festive season. Project manager Hannah Worsley. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Mrs Gilbert said: "There are people out there that really need the food and I know they do not want to come to us. If you know families please encourage them to get past this hurdle of coming into the foodbank.

"We are not judgmental, we just want to help them and feed them even if it is once just to relieve pressure on finances that little bit." 

The foodbank has been overwhelmed by the generosity of the community with plenty of donations ensuring 53 tonnes of food have been distributed since the start of the pandemic.

A second warehouse has been let out by the borough council to store the supplies.

"It was getting to the point where we could not move and it was going to be dangerous," Mrs Gilbert said. 

Phil Williams, director of Thetford Foodbank, said he had to move to a skeleton team of volunteers to help minimise contact during the pandemic. 

But he had been overwhelmed by "hundreds of requests" from those hoping to volunteer as the Trussell Trust foodbank has managed the Covid spike, and seen its output double over the past two years. 

Volunteers at Norwich FoodCycle during the coronavirus pandemic.

Norwich FoodCycle volunteers during the pandemic - Credit: Matthew Price

When the pandemic first hit, Norwich FoodCycle initially closed and opened as a delivery service until August when it then switched to a Cook and Collect takeaway meal service. 

Between April 2020 and February 2021, a total of 755 guests have been served, with 18, 512 meals served. 

Mary McGrath, FoodCycle chief executive officer, said: "2020 was the year that none of us saw coming and is certainly a year none of us will ever forget.

Food is prepared at Norwich FoodCycle.

Food being prepared at Norwich FoodCycle - Credit: Submitted

"Both staff and volunteers at FoodCycle Norwich were incredible in responding to the pandemic and within weeks of the lockdown had pivoted to delivering food parcels to local communities followed by the switch to Cook and Collect in August.

"Most crucially we have been able to provide our vital service of nutritious cooked food to the local community throughout this time."  

Food is prepared at Norwich FoodCycle.

Food is prepared at Norwich FoodCycle - Credit: Submitted

Norwich FoodCycle volunteer and project leader Belinda Axtel added: "Since this lockdown started, we have seen more non-homeless people whose situation has changed and just need a bit of help to make ends meet.

"Those that would normally come in for a chat and meal in the dining room are losing the social side but we have a check-in chat service for guests if they want to." 

Norwich FoodCycle has also saved 8,000kg of surplus food since April.

Likewise, Norwich FoodHub, which was set up in 2015, acts as an intermediary to collect surplus food and distribute it to local organisations. 

A guest receives his food from Norwich FoodCycle

A guest receives his packages from Norwich FoodCycle - Credit: Submitted

Director Jacob Briggs said more than 100,000 meals have been distributed in 2020, up 20pc from 2019. With many eateries being forced to close during the pandemic, food surplus inevitably increased. 

Volunteers book a supermarket delivery slot time to collect surplus food which is left for them to pick up. This is then transported to the Cadge Road Community Centre to be redistributed to organisations. 

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