The Waveney Foodbank has reported a 390 per cent increase in the last six months in the number of people it feeds in the Diss Express area.
The significant rise in people in Diss, Harleston, Long Stratton and Bungay who are now struggling to put food on the table comes as Tesco revealed it generated almost 30,000 tonnes of food waste in the first six months of 2013, something the supermarket giant says it is working to rectify.
Waveney Foodbank co-ordinator Graham Reardon, who helped set up the foodbank in 2012 and saw it develop into a standalone charity last October, likened the situation to a “famine”. He said: “We call ourselves a civilised society and yet many people can’t afford to eat. Something has gone badly wrong, hasn’t it? I think it’s criminal.”
Mr Reardon said foodbanks were providing a safety net which for many was a last resort. “What has surprised us is how quickly that need has accelerated. Up to April this year, we were providing a quarter to half a tonne of food per month. Now that has become more than one tonne a month and we are worked off our feet.”
The foodbank has fed over 750 people since April and the increase in demand means it is looking to move to bigger premises from its Stanley Road warehouse which is rented at a peppercorn rate from Rackhams Funeral Service.
Food is donated to the foodbank by the public who are, Mr Reardon said, “extremely generous”. It is also collected from churches and from harvest festivals in local schools.
The foodbank is affiliated to the Trussell Trust which has organised two collection days a year at Tesco in Diss, worth around three tonnes of food per year. The supermarket also allows the foodbank to buy at considerably reduced prices.
“We are completely non-judgemental,” Mr Reardon said. “We don’t make any assessment of people’s needs. Instead we rely on the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), local housing associations, doctors’ surgeries, local clergy and a variety of other welfare organisations. They make the assessments and are authorised to give foodbank vouchers to those they feel are in need.”
Mr Reardon said people come to the foodbank when they are at a very low ebb, out of work, they may have lost their benefits or are struggling financially in other ways.
The boxes contain balanced menus with nonperishable foods such as jars, tins, dried pasta, sugar, tea bags and rice. They are available for collection at distribution centres in Diss, such as the Number 7 drop-in centre above Costa Coffee in Mere Street, in Harleston and in Bungay.
Small overnight boxes are available in emergencies overnight, but must be authorised the following day.
The foodbank is entirely staffed by volunteers - around 60 in all - from the warehouse manager and several others who volunteer almost full-time, to those who give a few hours each week. Mr Reardon is also a full-time volunteer.
He is currently looking for ways to provide a service to outlying villages. “Rural deprivation is fairly hidden and this is where churches can help as they are in those communities and may know of people in need who we could take a box to.”
He said the local public can also help immediately, not just by donating food but by voting for the charity in a Lloyds Bank Community Fund-run ballot for a cash lump sum. If the foodbank is successful in the ballot, it will be able to fund a van for deliveries to villages. Voting is open until November 1. To cast a vote, log on to the Community Fund section of the Lloyds Bank website.
Volunteers are also needed to help with a collection day at the Tesco supermarket in Diss on November 29 and 30.
For more details on the Waveney Foodbank, see www.waveney.foodbank.org.uk