Food bank numbers soaring as more people struggle to feed their families

Foodbank donations at Morrisons'left to right Margaret Poole, Colin Thompson and Joan Thompson
Foodbank donations at Morrisons'left to right Margaret Poole, Colin Thompson and Joan Thompson

Fenland is going through a crisis with more and more people being forced to choose between paying bills and eating.

The region’s food banks are seeing more people than ever come through their doors to claim emergency food supplies.

Wisbech food bank has seen more than 400 people since it opened four months ago – and more than 150 of them were children.

March food bank has not yet opened its doors but is already dealing with referrals from organisations in the town.

And Chatteris food bank has had more than 100 vouchers – each of which can see a single person, couple or family claim up to three food parcels – in the seven months since it opened.

Wisbech food bank volunteer Margaret Poole said they were shocked by the number of people coming through the door.

“We were told it would be slow to get going,” she said, “but it hasn’t been. Each month the numbers are going up. We don’t know where it’s going to end.”

The food bank was in Morrisons last week collecting donations from shoppers. Margaret said they have also have an amazing amount of donations from schools and churches celebrating harvest.

March food bank is set to open on November 12, working out of Powerhouse Church behind the new Iceland store. Barbara Taylor said people have been going to Chatteris food bank but there are obviously issues with travel, which makes the March bank even more vital.

“People are desperate now,” she said. “The sooner we can open, the better.”

March, like Chatteris, is under the umbrella of Ely food bank, which has been very generous helping them set up a store of food. But donations are always welcome. March particularly needs tinned meat and fish, sugar and longlife milk and juice.

Chatteris food bank committee member Rod Doulton said it does not look like things will improve for people in the town.

“I just can’t see the situation getting much better,” he said. “There are so many changes going on. We are preparing for the worst.”

Chatteris food bank, like others in the area, is getting busier all the time and the volunteers are busy getting all the supplies they can for the winter months.

Rod added the food parcels give recipients “a bit of breathing space” and people are generally only getting one voucher. Barbara at March said they have had a few negative comments with people fearing the scheme will be taken advantage of.

The Rural Cambs Citizens Advice Bureau said they have been referring a lot of people to the food banks and some have been coming specifically for that reason.

Operations manager Nick Blencowe said: “The reasons are two-fold for this increase. People are coming because they have found about the food bank and we are seeing a lot more people with debt issues at the moment, many which are related to benefit changes.

“Benefits can take two to three weeks before anything happens and in the meantime, they have no money for food.”

This is an issue that has been seen in the other Rural Cambs branches in Ely and Huntingdon and Nick said he has been most surprised at the number of food banks that have been set up, with one in almost every town now.

Carole Cracknell is the new advice service leader at Wisbech and said the CAB is trying to be pro-active, running schemes such as Making Money Count. The project sees a bus travelling around Fenland, helping people to manage their finances and teaching them valuable skills to make the most of their income.

• The Fenland Citizen is a donation point for the Wisbech food bank. Just bring in your food and leave it in the box in reception. If you are unsure what to get, shopping lists are also available.

• March food bank will have a permanent collection in Sainsbury’s from the middle of November, so keep an eye out.

• There is a collection point for Chatteris food bank in the parish church. Donations can also be bought to Emmanuel Church on Friday mornings during the coffee morning. They regularly run low on supplies of longlife milk and juice and tins of meat, fruit and vegetables.