By Emma Harwood 

The coronavirus lockdown period has seen a staggering increase in numbers of people pushed into food poverty, including those who had previously considered them-selves  comfortably off, Hastings Foodbank has revealed.

From 1st April to 30th June the number of meals given out across the town and parts of Rother was more than four times the amount given in the same period last year by the charity which is based at King’s Church on The Ridge. 

A total of 82,887 meals were delivered to people in need – and of those 36,078 were for children. In the same period last year the Foodbank provided 20,124 meals.

The charity works on a referral only basis, meaning those unable to afford food need to have been referred by a relevant agency, such as a GP surgery, social services or Housing Association. 

During lockdown, the agencies referring the most people have been the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and the Covid-19 helpline.

And those in need have included people who lost their jobs and businesses, as well as those on zero-hour contracts who were subsequently unable to work when the lockdown started.

The charity has also helped people who were furloughed and therefore lost 20 percent of their wages, which pushed them into crisis.

“Right from beginning of lockdown we saw people losing their jobs, almost instantly, before the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme got underway and we saw people who’d lost businesses,” says Natalie Williams of King’s Church.

“One woman I spoke to at the end of March told me she’d had a lucrative 20 year media career but almost overnight every contract she had lined up had been cancelled. 

She had a nice house but a high mortgage and was without the means to buy food for herself and her teenage daughter that week.”

“One of the things I found most surprising was seeing people who’ve never experienced poverty experiencing it for the first time, who I would describe as shell-shocked because they never thought it could happen to them.”

‘Low income’ followed by ‘sickness’ have been the main reasons given by those referring people to the charity from April to the end of June.

Parents who struggled to feed children at home during the lockdown and those getting into rent arrears who needed to prioritise rent payments over buying food have also been helped.

In May DEFRA announced a £16 million fund for charities to provide food to those struggling as a result of coronavirus.  

Some of this cash has helped the Foodbank cover food costs which ran to £5,000 a week during the peak of the crisis. However, the funding was awarded for a 12-week period only and runs out on 9th August.

Despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, meaning many people are able to return to work, Foodbank staff and volunteers are preparing for their busiest winter ever.

Usually, expenses such as gas and electricity over the colder months, and school uniforms at the start of the school year, are reasons why demand is higher in winter. 

But with many businesses in the area in crisis having lost their seasonal summer trade, coupled with the furlough scheme coming to an end, demand for the service this autumn and winter is expected to be greatly increased.

“Just because we’ve had relatively low levels of Covid-19 here so far, doesn’t mean our community isn’t suffering from the impact of the pandemic. Many are struggling financially and need help even to put food on the table. I think all of us are concerned about what sort of winter we’re heading into. While there’s a lot that’s uncertain, one thing that is certain is that we, and other local churches and charities, will be here to help when we’re needed.”

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