Foodbanks aim to help more of those in need
Reduced face-to-face contact during the pandemic has led to concerns that food banks are not able to help as many people as they would like.
It comes as they prepare for a possible rise in demand when the Government's furlough scheme finishes at the end of October.
Companies will then have to decide whether they can still afford the wages of employees, or be forced to make them redundant.
Foodbanks including those in Congleton, Alsager, Sandbach and Stoke-on-Trent are urging people to seek help when they need it by getting a referral from a GP, housing association or school.
In an effort to make it easier for people to be put in touch with food banks the one serving the Biddulph area has increased the use of e-vouchers. These work by matching a code with a food centre.
Caroline Wolfe, community and business liaison co-ordinator at Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank, said: “We have seen a reduced number of guests attending the food bank in the last week. One guest reported that they could not get a voucher from us because there is no face to face meetings at the moment.
“Here at Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank, we are passionate about getting food and help to the people that need it.
“But we are concerned that at the moment this is not happening as people are not able to have meetings in person with the agencies that normally refer them, such as the Biddulph Citizen Advice office. Also, people may not think we are open - 15 centres are open on a weekly basis, two of which are located in the Biddulph area. Different centres open different hours and days to cover six days of the week.”
She added: “Before covid-19, handing over a red paper voucher to one of our food centres was the main way that people identified as being in food crisis were able to get three days of nutritionally balanced food for themselves and their dependant family, but now we've increased the use of e-vouchers, when the person is given a code sent to them by phone and matched up by the food centres on our admin system.
“It's not just about the food but also about the support and follow up options that we can give these people so that the root cause of their crisis can be tackled. The current issues are not going to go away soon and a significant percentage of those affected will be children.”
With the end of the initial Government furlough scheme in September businesses that have put staff on furlough have had to pay 10% of their wages. This will rise to 20% in October ahead of the scheme finishing completely at the end of the month.
Ms Wolfe said: “Many companies are reassessing their workforce numbers and redundancies are being made.
“Almost 10 million workers who were unable to do their job because of the coronavirus outbreak, have had their wages paid by the Government.
“Even when people apply for benefits to support them there is a time lag until payment, which can cause financial crises.”
Vanessa Howard, one of the co-ordinators at Alsager Foodbank, said: “Through the summer and the holiday period we were very busy, then it started to quieten down.”
Referring to the end of the furlough scheme, she said: “Some people might find themselves in a place they've never been before. It's whether they know where to turn for help if they find themselves without a job and money.
“We want to get the message out there that there is help for those in need to get food before things spiral out of control. The foodbank can also signpost them to the right people for further help.”
Karen Foster, a lead volunteer at Sandbach Foodbank, said: “We have been working very closely with the local primary schools to ensure that families with school age children have been provided for.
“In addition to this, what I can say is that the number of referrals has not dropped during the last six months, in fact it has increased, but whether that is an indication that we are reaching more people or just that the demand was much higher I couldn't say.
“I can say that we have not noticed that any of our regular referring agencies are missing over the last six months.”
Jeff Cutts, manager at Congleton's Storehouse Foodbank, based at New Life Church on West Street, said: “The general situation is that things have steadied and are calmer than at the peak of lockdown, but it's still busier than before the pandemic, we are helping more people than we used to.
“A concern is that there are people out there not getting the support from some agencies because there are no face to face meetings, so I can understand there are some people slipping through the net.
“The message I want to get across is that if people are in need themselves they should try and contact someone for a reference. They should not be ashamed about it - it's a situation anyone can face.”
He said referrals to the foodbank can be made from a doctor, housing association or a school.
Mr Cutts added: “We would never turn anyone away hungry, but we want to encourage people to seek help.”
He said the Storehouse would like to thank people who had donated food, including those who left provisions on the foodbank's doorstep, as well as those who had donated money.
Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank can be contacted on 01782 317 942, for Alsager Foodbank phone 07743 659 906, to contact the Storehouse in Congleton phone 01260 297 961 and for Sandbach Foodbank email firstname.lastname@example.org.