‘We are worried about people being swept into poverty’ – Food bank use doubles in York

Photograph: Trussell Trust

Food bank use in the city has more than doubled during the coronavirus pandemic.

And the organisation fears people could be swept into poverty because of the lockdown.

City of York Council is also supporting vulnerable residents – and handed out its highest number of food parcels in a single day a fortnight ago.

Adam Raffell, coordinator at York Food Bank, said: “It was busiest at the start of the lockdown, there were a couple of weeks which were astonishingly crazy.

“We had an initial two weeks which were very busy while some of the measures that had been put in place were waiting to take effect. We had that uncertainty, which led to an increase.

“We are still giving out about double the amount – probably a little more than that.

“It’s a difficult time, people are struggling and we are doing our best to refer them to the help available.”

‘Not a long term solution’

Photograph: York Foodbank

In April 2019, just over 100 food bank vouchers were handed out. This year – that figure quadrupled to more than 400. Adam said usually about 170 vouchers are handed out a month.

He said: “We are concerned about what the future holds for people. We are keen to make sure people don’t struggle in the long term.

“We are worried about people being swept into poverty and that people are not forced to rely on a food bank because we are designed for crisis situations, not a long term solution.”

The council also set up community hubs at the start of the lockdown – providing food parcels from both the government and from council supplies.

In the 56 days since they opened, they have given out about 1,990 food parcels and £10,735 worth of food vouchers have been issued to 105 vulnerable residents.

Community hubs busy

Cllr Darryl Smalley said: “You would probably expect that in the immediate response you’d have a spike of need and that it would be gradually going down.

“We’ve seen as a council that this really hasn’t been the case.

“The busiest day for the community hubs in terms of food parcels alone was actually Tuesday [May 12] when more food parcels were handed out than on any other single day alone.

“That’s two weeks into May – you wouldn’t necessarily have assumed back in March that that would be the case. We also had more calls through so the helpline over that weekend.”

Council leaders Keith Aspden and Darryl Smalley at a community hub in York. Photograph: City of York Council

In response to the need to help residents, the council has decided to keep its community hubs open longer and will create more drop-in sessions as soon as government guidelines permit.

York’s food banks are also staying open at the same locations with the same opening hours – but social distancing measures in place.

Adam said it is only thanks to the generosity of the city’s residents and businesses that they have been able to meet the demand: “We would like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported us.

“We went through a lot of food very quickly before the national response came on line.

“Our volunteers have been fantastic at stepping up to the challenges. The public support has been amazing, we are so grateful because it has meant that we have had what we needed.”