A major food bank charity has insisted that food banks will continue to provide a “lifeline of emergency food” amid the “unprecedented challenge” of the coronavirus outbreak.
The words of reassurance come as some food banks are starting to run out of basics and are rationing out parcels amid stockpiling and a fall in donations.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of more than 1,200 food banks, said that, although they had not heard that any food bank in their network had ran out of all food donations, the coronavirus outbreak is proving to be a challenge at an uncertain time.
“Time and again over the past decade, food banks across the UK – aided by a generous public who have donated time, food and money – have stepped up to protect people on the lowest incomes in our communities. But with the spread of coronavirus we all now face an unprecedented challenge and uncertain future,” Ms Revie said.
“It is possible that food banks will face increased demand as people lose income, at the same time as food donations drop or staff and volunteers are unavailable, due to measures rightly put in place to slow the spread of infection. All of this comes when food banks are already dealing with a record level of need for emergency food.”
Ms Revie noted that it is difficult to predict how things will unfold but reassured people that the network is looking at how to best support people.
“Wherever possible, food banks will continue to provide the lifeline of emergency food to people unable to afford the essentials and we encourage the public to continue donating after checking with their local food bank what items are most needed,” she said.
Ms Revie added: “We welcome the Department for Work and Pensions’ measures that will not penalise or sanction people for self-isolating, but we ask our government to go further and consider additional measures they could take to ensure everyone has enough money for essentials at this challenging time. Ending the five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment would be one such measure that could help significantly.”
Meanwhile, several food banks in the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) are struggling to purchase cupboard staples such as long-life milk, cereal and pasta.
Others have seen a fall in donations and are anticipating this to continue as the Covid-19 outbreak progresses, said Sabine Goodwin, the network’s co-ordinator.
She said some of its members have started rationing their food parcel contents in order to compensate for a future lack of donations.
The IFAN has 232 members, including 189 food banks across the UK.
Recent stockpiling and hoarding by some members of the public “demonstrates a real lack of awareness as to how many millions of people are living with food insecurity in the UK”, she said.
Ms Goodwin said: “Emergency food aid providers cannot keep picking up the pieces and supporting more and more people let down by a broken benefits system and insufficient wages.
“The need for charitable food aid is already increasing regardless of the spread of coronavirus.
“Over 830 independent food banks in the UK usually operate fragile systems dependent on goodwill and generosity both in terms of food supply and staffing. If donations dwindle or if volunteers are unwell, food banks may be unable to help adults and children going hungry.
“The Government needs to take responsibility for the worsening poverty its policies are driving.
“The spread of coronavirus can only deepen Britain’s food insecurity crisis and it’s the millions of people living on low or no incomes who will inevitably suffer the most.”
Rajesh Makwana, director at the Sufra food bank in Stonebridge, north-west London, said it may have to shift to a delivery model to prevent infection spread if the Covid-19 outbreak deteriorates.
The food bank, which provides people with the equivalent of 9,500 food parcels a year, has seen a “massive increase” in demand this year.
The team are “fast running out” of basics such as toilet roll, pasta and long-life milk as they are experiencing difficulties in “purchasing the food we need in the quantities we require”.
They are reducing the food parcels they distribute by about a third in an attempt to ration out remaining supplies for as long as possible.
He said: “All the indications are that this will be a prolonged crisis, over at least a period of weeks/months so we need to make sure we can support people through that.
“We are desperately trying to source food and toiletries, but in the meantime the only way we can guarantee that people can have access to the essentials they need is by rationing what we provide.
“So we are reducing our food parcels by about a third at least in order to make sure that we’ve got enough to see us through this crisis.”
The UK tissue industry assured consumers there is no need to panic buy or stockpile toilet paper as the market continues to operate normally.
A joint statement by the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) and the Paper Industry Technical Association (PITA) said: ‘Coronavirus has no impact (or likely impact) on the actual demand for toilet tissue and it follows there is no need to panic buy or stockpile.
‘Manufacturing and distribution continue to operate normally, and retail stocks are being replenished.’
Picture: A staff member with a client at the Trussell Trust Brent Food bank, Neasden, London. (Jonathan Brady/PA).