Sheffield foodbank on a ‘relentless year’ and its mammoth task to provide 1 MILLION meals
Sheffield’s S6 Foodbank has this week revealed the scale of its huge task of feeding thousands of people blighted by poverty and debt - and now the pandemic.
About 10 years ago I reported on the emergence of foodbanks in the Dearne Valley run from a single table in a community centre handing out groceries to help a few people who were going short.
Fast forward to post pandemic 2021 and food banks have become a lifeline for thousands and have become – rightly or wrongly – an accepted part of the UK benefits infrastructure for those who are falling through the safety net.
A visit to the S6 foodbank on Gilpin Street was bit of a wake up call even to a seasoned hack like me.
S6 Foodbank is part of the Trussell Trust network of foodbanks operating across the UK. Their main warehouse is on Gilpin Street, with satellites across the city. Between April and September 2020, S6 Foodbank distributed 10,980 emergency food parcels to adults in Sheffield, and 9340 emergency food parcels to children.
A year ago when the pandemic hit, S6 Foodbank ran 4 foodbank sites, predominantly around the S6 area, feeding around 155 people each week. Now, the team is responsible for 9 foodbank sites across the city, stretching from Crookes to Sharrow and from Woodhouse to Firth Park, feeding 1000 people each week.
The scale of the S6 foodbank is a big surprise to those who first visit, says manager Chris Hardy who distributes food and provisions from the 5,000sq ft warehouse space.
Chris said: “We started in late 2011 at St Thomas Philadelphia. Families from the estate were coming own an saying they were hungry so we made a decision as a church as a community to work out what we were going to do.
"So we partnered with the Trussell Trust the national organisation which looks after food banks and for us there was no point in reinventing the wheel when they had set up a network of foodbanks already.
“With the Trussell Trust you hear what’s happening across the nation and that helps us to change policy nationally.
"We fed 2,000 people in the first year and we’ve had a 30 per cent increase year on year since then.”
The logistics of such an operation can no longer just rely on the odd tin of food dropped in a supermarket trolley.
Just this morning 2,000 tins of soup and 3,000 tins of beans have come in on shrink-wrapped pallets to sit alongside similar consignments of tinned pork and cartons of juice.
“Jonathan Bramwell who does our logistics and visits our sites started with his transit van, moved up to the five ton and now uses a 13 ton lorry it just shows you the scale of the amount now going in and out,” says Chris.
Feminine hygiene products, household items, toiletries and nappies are in huge demand. A lot of families are accessing support.
Volunteer Becky Eden Green is a professional musician who offered to work there after the bottom fell out of her work during the pandemic.
She said; “I’ve found a temporary job and I’m here one day a week now
"I can see how easy it can be for people like me to suddenly be in this position.
"We don’t want to need foodbanks, we should have a society where everybody can afford the bare essentials. I’m an advocate of universal basic income. Some people we get coming through the door are nurses. Skilled professionals who just can’t make ends meet and there’s a huge problem in society where there’s not the work going around and people are struggling.”
Chris says the foodbank has had to mold its increasing workload to the changing burdens users face.
“We started with the problem of payday lending companies which was a massive issue six years ago. We are now into the issues around Universal Credit. The underlying thing is always people in debt. People on zero-hours contracts people just not having enough money in their pockets.”
"We can help them with a food parcel but the bigger picture is always how we help people with debt, any issues such as mental health and isolation issues – and how we get money in people’s pockets.
“Helping them not to need a foodbank is a key to our success.”
The S6 foodbank has launched an appeal to raise £150,000 for the year which is their projected shortfall from other money it gets from sources such as grants and bids.
It equates to a million meals.
Chris added: “The past year has been relentless, but once again, Sheffield people have continued to support others in need, donating food and cash to people they will likely never meet, from across the whole city. And that’s incredible.
“Looking forward, we only see demand continuing to grow as furlough comes to an end. Cash is vital to us, as it enables us to bulk buy in a targeted way.”
Volunteer Alison Wise said in her own personal view foodbanks are mopping up the gaps in the cuts to public services.
"The worrying thing is that we have almost accepted it. We don’t want to be here but the more the referrals go up,” she said.
“We do get some stick occasionally where people comment on Social media and say there shouldn’t be food banks.
"We agree – but what we are doing is feeding the people who keep coming through the door.
“We can’t stop because otherwise what will happen?
“It’s not all doom and gloom. Our guests are amazing and funny and tell us stories that make us laugh. But they are on their uppers.
"The average person on the street who only sees the donation bit in the supermarket has no clue."