Cost of living crisis: Hackney Foodbank sees highest demand in decade amid 50pc drop in donations

Pat Fitzsimons inside Hackney Foodbank Pic: Sophia Corness-Parr

Hackney Foodbank faces a Christmas crisis with the highest demand in its history coupled with a dramatic halving of donations from the public, its chief executive officer has revealed.

Pat Fitzsimons, the first chief executive of the charity, said food donations “have gone through the floor, they’re more than 50% down” from last year. The charity, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, is currently spending £4,000 of corporate donor money a week on extra food because the demand cannot be met by public donations alone.

The foodbank, which is partnered with the Trussell Trust, works by giving out vouchers for emergency three-day food parcels. People must contact one of the food bank’s referral agencies for a code to claim the voucher. Their latest data showed that 344 vouchers were given out last week.  

Since the cost of living crisis began in October, the charity “saw more people than we’ve ever seen before in the 10 years,” Fitzsimons told Eastlondonlines. 

In October, the food bank held a discussion session with local people. Fitzsimons said there were a surprising number of frontline NHS staff who turned up: “They were asking, ‘where can I get help for people? Where can I get energy vouchers? Where can I get food vouchers?’”  

Following the positive feedback on the session, Fitzsimons decided to run the Q&A as an annual event. Part of this initiative was to put a face to the charity, so people who donated to the foodbank could finally meet the people running it. “People who have given to have the food bank had never ever met a single soul, so they were just delighted to me,” she said. 

Fitzsimons added: “It [food] is so important to a well-functioning society and it is an absolute disgrace that we are in a situation where people have to go to food banks.” 

The rise in demand for the food bank “meant more than a 100% increase in our staff numbers, so that’s what we’ve been doing this year; increasing the staff team, rolling out these projects, getting better data,” she said.  

This month the foodbank is also running a ‘reverse advent calendar’ so people can donate specific items the charity needs from December 1 to 24, which Fitzsimons has committed to making an annual campaign. 

Appointed in February, American-born and Hackney resident, Fitzsimons is the foodbank’s first chief executive, replacing an interim CEO who was appointed following increased demand during the pandemic.  

She has over 25 years experience in the charity, housing association and local government sectors; previously working as director of Thames Estuary Partnership and chief executive at Community Network, and other senior roles at non-profit organisations .

Fitzsimons said she had been an “anti-poverty campaigner” all her life: “Everyone asked, ‘why did you go into the foodbank?’ and I don’t know … Nobody dies of thirst in the UK. The next thing is food. And so maybe it’s something around that. Maybe it’s about being a mother.”

Under Fitzsimons’s leadership, the foodbank launched their ‘phone to food’ scheme by which people are given credit to spend at local participating stores and markets instead of the vouchers. During the pilot, 65% of people chose the credit scheme over the vouchers.  

Fitzsimons praised the recently piloted scheme: “It’s cheap food, it’s culturally specific, and people spend it like a credit card on your phone so there’s dignity involved. People can suit themselves in terms of what they eat, they get fresh food instead of perishables.” 

From December 1 to December 3, Morning Lane and Well Street Tesco will have donation points for Hackney Foodbank from 9am to 6pm. This is a regular collaboration by Trussell Trust food banks and Tesco that typically generates 20% of all food donated during December to Hackney Foodbank.  

She predicted the next two years would see an increase in users but looking into the future of the food bank, Fitzsimons said: “I want it to close”.

To donate food or money to Hackney Foodbank, click here:   To get support from the food bank, click here:  

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