The number of people relying on donations to foodbanks has increased 170 per cent in the last year, as 60,000 families are expected to visit foodbanks for their Christmas meal.
The Hackney foodbank, in Dalston, provides emergency food and support to locals in crisis, including a food distribution service at three churches across east London each week.
ELL visited one of these Churches, St. John the Baptist in Hoxton, and spoke to Susan Marks, 47, from Haggerston, who has been unemployed for two years and was referred to the foodbank by the job centre.
The foodbank gives three days worth of food, but Marks can make her food parcel last up to three weeks:
“Without the foodbank I don’t know what I would have done, I only have £11 for food after bills. I can’t eat a lot or I would feel guilty. You’ve just got to be creative with the meals you make. You won’t feel full but you won’t starve.”
This was Marks’ last visit to the foodbank as the scheme offers only temporary relief limiting visits to just two visits a year.
“Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do. But I’m not there yet so I can’t say what it is going to be like. I’m not thinking about Christmas – just survival. It is either food or heating. And the worst part is I can’t bear to tell my family, I don’t know how they would react. If I can afford travel I will go to my boyfriend’s in Wandsworth for Christmas Day, if not I’ll be alone.”
Although the foodbank has offered temporary peace of mind, Marks says it is the Government’s welfare reforms that have hit her the hardest.
After a five-year wait on a housing list and short stays in temporary accommodation, Marks has just been moved into a new flat at Cashmere House, but because the only option was a two bedroom flat, she now has to face the bedroom tax.
Marks said: “If I could just get a job I could have my life back. I just want a quiet life.”
Her plight comes at a time when the Trussell Trust, a national organisation aiming to combat poverty, has collaborated with Tesco to hold nationwide supermarket collections for foodbanks.
Their scheme, ‘Every Can Helps,’ encourages customers to purchase an additional item with their weekly shop, which they can donate to the in-store foodbank collection point.
MP for South Hackney, Meg Hillier, visited the collection at Tesco and said: “I see how little Hackney people have to live on – the foodbank provides the much needed bridge.”
Hillier said between April and May 2013, the number of people referred to the foodbanks had doubled due to the “cruel” welfare cuts: “The foodbank is a lifeline for many of these people.”
From November 29 to December 1, Hackney Foodbank received two tonnes worth of donations from Tesco shoppers at the Morning Lane branch. In addition, the supermarket has pledged £1000 in aid.
Shoppers incorporate extra items into their trolley to donate. One donor, Gordon Allen, 46, a full-time carer and recipient of benefits, said he understood “what it’s like to go without a meal.”
Allen, who is from Hackney Central, added: “[Foodbanks] are important all year round – people out there are struggling. They make the difference between someone eating and starving.”
Manager of Hackney Foodbank, Liza Cucco, said: “People are feeling increasing pressure from changes in the benefits system and the rising cost of utilities.”
She added: “The foodbank only helps people short term, but it frees you up a little bit to deal with more pressing issues.”
Helen Moules, 41, from Limehouse, a trustee for Hackney Foodbank, said: “Food poverty is a key issue for people locally. The foodbank is a great way to engage the community to help in a really easy way. It engages everyone regardless of their circumstances.”
Reporting by Serina Sandhu and Laura Raphael