Many food banks rely on bulk supplies of free surplus food from supermarkets. Some report these have become less frequent, others that they have dried up altogether. Fare Share, the national charity that distributes tens of thousands of tonnes of surplus food to local charities each year, says HGV shortages mean supplies to its warehouses are down by a third in recent weeks “with no end in sight”.
Many food banks report the public is giving less food – a touch of donor fatigue perhaps, after so many stepped up to help at the height of the pandemic. In some cases donations have reduced by a third. There is increased competition for food – some food banks now share in-store supermarket collection baskets with other charities. And donors themselves are feeling the pinch. “Everyone is struggling,” said a Leeds food bank.
Many food banks have been forced to dip into cash reserves to top up stock lines that are running low. But some report supermarkets have imposed purchase limits to protect shop floor stocks for other customers. Many worry that the current policy of using their “rainy day” funds is unsustainable. “Our funds are not enough to continue into next year at the current usage rate,” said a north London food bank.
Food banks successfully negotiated a volunteer crisis during the first national lockdown when many older volunteers stepped down after being told to shield. An influx of furloughed working-age volunteers helped them through but the end of furlough last week could see that change. Many food banks switched to driving home deliveries during the pandemic and a continuation of the fuel shortages could disrupt those arrangements.
The supply crisis has come at a critical times as most food banks expect a big increase in people needing help in the next few months. Some are predicting a 50% increase by Christmas. The end of the universal credit uplift this week, the unwinding of furlough last week and rising energy costs of energy will all hit already stretched household budgets. “It could be a deluge,” a food bank said.