Christmas is always a very busy time of year for us at Epsom & Ewell Foodbank, as families struggle to manage the additional costs of the festive period, as well as higher than average energy bills. Normally, we see a significant dip in food bank use in the early part of the new year, but 2023 has so far seen a stark difference.
In March, we distributed food to 1,054 people across our five centres, more than we did in December 2021 or in any month before the pandemic.
The number of people coming to the food bank in the first three months of 2023 is 65% higher than in the first quarter of last year and 187% higher than in the first quarter of 2019. For the first time in the food bank’s ten-year history, donations of food and toiletries are consistently no longer keeping up with demand, despite the immense generosity of our supporters.
At the same time, we are hearing some very harrowing stories from clients affected by the cost-of-living crisis. People are being forced to more and more desperate lengths to get by, like this lady:
“It’s ridiculous to wear a hat and gloves inside and a dressing gown over your clothes at this time in our lives and in this age. It’s like going back to the Iron Age. I’m terrified to be honest that this is going to be our future. I’m an honest person by heart, but even I have stolen things from the supermarket to save money to put towards my heating, I’m ashamed to say. But I can’t see ways around it.”
We ran an energy workshop for a group of clients last week, but most of the group said they never put their heating on, even though their home is like an “ice-box”. So, it was hard to advise them on how they could save money on their energy bills! One client described how she now spends most of her time in bed, as that is the only way she can stay warm. These stories are truly shocking – and it’s hard to believe this is happening in this part of Surrey in the 21st century.
We are incredibly grateful to those who continue to donate to the food bank, to help meet people’s immediate needs. However, we also know this is only a sticking plaster solution to the problems we see at every single one of our sessions. What we really need is a concerted, collaborative and long-term plan to tackle poverty, starting with an understanding of the issues affecting a significant and growing minority of our neighbours, friends and family.
For information on our End Poverty Pledge, and how you can get involved, please go to: https://goodcompany.org.uk/end-poverty-surrey/