Derry foodbank praises public generosity as poverty levels now 'beyond a crisis'
Karen Mullan, Strategic Development Officer at Foyle Foodbank said the number of people needing assistance was rising in the current crisis.
As teams of volunteers gathered to help staff at the Derry foodbank in Springtown this week, Ms Mullan told the Jounal: “We have been preparing for this since last winter. Coming out of last winter we have continued to see a steady increase.
"At times when you would expect it to slow down, like the summer, it didn’t and it continued to increase coming into winter. When I came here last April people had already been telling me they hadn’t turned their heating on for weeks and months.
"Unfortunately, cost of living is nothing new to people here in Derry and Strabane, but this year it is just beyond a crisis, it is survival for many because the price of everything has gone up. It’s not just home heating oil, it’s the fuel you put into your car to get to work, it’s the food you put on the table, it’s the clothes you need to buy for your children.”
Karen said that while in years past, people may have cut back spending in one area to help ease pressure elsewhere, today “people just don’t have it”.
"It’s not there, the wages hasn’t gone up to meet any of this over recent years, and then there is the rise in inflation. And anyone who is not working and is on benefits, it nowhere nears covers the basic essentials people need to live on.
People are ‘really being pushed to the furthest point at this stage’, Karen said, and many were relying on the fuel payments which are nowhere to be seen, although she added much longer-term support was needed.
"Promises that were made to people that they would have had the £400, then £600 payment, in November, We haven’t seen it. A lot of people were relying on that to get them through the coldest months. That is only a short term, minor measure, and what is lacking is the long-term solutions and they need to be put in place very quickly.”
Latest figures for September and October alone this year show that over 1,100 people received assistance from the Foodbank in Derry, and that figure has risen since. “We could be doing 25 households a day in here which could be 80 to 100 people a day. At the minute for Christmas we are planning for around 500-600 and we are taking referrals from all the different agencies and a quite a high number of referrals have come in already.”
Karen said this included people of all backgrounds and walks of life. “We have a lot of people who are working who come to us for support. What has become apparent to me working here is that your life can change overnight: we have people who have a sudden illness and can’t work and you can imagine your pay is reduced down. Very few organisations now pay sick pay. We have people who have accidents and can’t work, people on maternity leave. Were people would have had a wee bit of savings built up before, because the cost of everything is so high those savings have gone.”
The Foodbank has now partnered with many other organisations to ensure people have access to a range of help and advice services. It also works closely with the HOPE Centre, the Social Supermarket in Pilot’s Row, St Vincent dePaul and the Donegal Christian Fellowship.
“When someone comes to us or is referred we meet with them, we look at what crisis has brought them to the foodbank. If it is debt we can get them to an appointment with a specialist debt advisor within days. We are already seeing quite a number of solutions and quick wins on that together with the advice services. We provide help with referring on housing, rent, counselling, benefits advice and then other agencies regarding addiction, meals on wheels and older people’s services.”
The Derry operation provides food, household cleaning items, toiletries, pet food and other items, and differs from many others because it also has the social supermarket shop, where people can choose their items by appointment, with fresh goods such as milk, bread, fruit, vegetables, cooked meat, fresh meat, frozen goods and non-perishable items.
None of this would be possible however without the help of local people.
Karen said: "I want to thank the Derry public and the many organisations – the generosity here, particularly this last couple of weeks has been overwhelming, and it has come from the ordinary people in this city and region who have held food collections within their premises, who have raised money to allow us to purchase fresh foods.
"The Christmas appeal donations have been amazing and we have been able to support other organisations with that as well.
"I’d like to thank all volunteers, and in particular Seagate and the Lycra Co. in DuPont who have allowed their staff to come here this last number of weeks and there are others as well. So many local small businesses have brought an overwhelming amount to us and also the bigger companies. The post office workers, who are themselves out on strike for fair pay and conditions, arrived with a massive donation, and there is the hospital workers as well.”
Top items needed going into the new year are: rice, pasta sauce, tea, coffee, sugar, dilute juice, cooking oil, biscuits, shampoo, shaving foam and nappies for children aged 5 plus.