Leeds food banks in 'crisis' as summer demand soars

John Newbould with volunteers, at a Leeds South and East Food Bank distribution centre in Belle Isle.
John Newbould with volunteers, at a Leeds South and East Food Bank distribution centre in Belle Isle.

Food banks offering hungry Leeds families a last resort in desperate times are themselves at a “crisis” point as demand for meals outpaces what services can supply during the summer holidays.

That’s according to the operational manager at one of the city’s two main services offering emergency three-day meal packages – who is appealing for specific sorts of goods to be donated alongside vital cash contributions (see below).

John Newbould.

John Newbould.

The Yorkshire Evening Post today re-starts its Feed A Family campaign, appealing for people in Leeds to donate what they can to food banks in the area.

John Newbould, volunteer operations manager at Leeds South and East Foodbank, said: “There is a lot of food still coming in but now the demand is outstripping our ability to supply.

“For an organisation that is here to help people in crisis, in a way, we’re now in crisis.”

Summer holidays are typically a busier time for food banks as parents who have the assurance of their children being fed with school meals lose that over the break. And so far, this has rang true in Leeds, with Mr Newbould estimating a 25 to 30 per cent rise in demand across the South and East’s 12 distribution centres this August.

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On one day recently they handed out 26 packages in Burmantofts, but it is not known how many people will benefit – it could be for one person, or it could be for a whole family.

This is compounded by the steady increase in demand for food supplies reported by the service over the last five years.

In 2013/14, the South and East service alone fed 1,216 clients. Three years later in 2016/17, its emergency parcels were handed out to 7,843.

Between April 2017 and March this year, 9,018 had to turn to the service.

And since April 1 to July 1 this year, around 3,500 made use of it – nearly double the whole year in 2013/14.

This does not include food distributed by the Leeds North and West Foodbank, which was unavailable for comment.

Several issues have resulted the rise in demand, but according to Mr Newbould changes in benefit payments are the main reason people resort to using food banks.

Mr Newbould estimates that around 50 to 60 per cent of clients use food banks for this reason. He said that much of this is due to the move to Universal Credit, which can mean weeks without payment for some claimants.

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But it is not just those on employment benefits, he said - it is also because of changes to tax credits and other entitlements which working families make use of. People on low incomes because of zero-hours contracts and part-time work are also frequent clients, he said, along with those suffering debt - often because of gas and electric bills.

Other reasons also contribute to people’s need for food banks, such as those who are having to escape domestic abuse.

It comes after anti-poverty charity the Trussell Trust last week said that an increase in demand for emergency meals for children drove greater food bank need during the summer holidays last year.

A report last year from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger estimated the loss of free school meals during the holidays adds between £30 and £40 a week to parents’ outgoings for one child.

Samantha Stapley, the charity’s director of operations, said: “Food banks cannot, and must not, be a long term to solution to hunger at any time of year.

“No one should face going hungry, and although our network will be doing all they can this summer to help families struggling to make the money they have stretch to cover the essentials, no charity can replace people having enough money for the basics.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to supporting families to improve their lives, and employment remains the best route to achieve that.

“We recently announced a £2m fund for organisations to support disadvantaged families during the school holidays, which can include providing healthy meals.

“Meanwhile we have a record employment rate, household incomes have never been higher and there are 300,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty than in 2010.

“Our welfare reforms offer parents tailored support to move into work, ensuring that even more families can enjoy the opportunities and benefits that work can bring.”

What to donate:

The Leeds South and East Foodbank is in desperate need of certain items.

Anyone wishing to donate is asked to give: tinned tomatoes, cooking sauces, tinned rice pudding, tinned custard, tinned fish, coffee, UHT milk and cordial.

Until August 20, these should be dropped at Unit 16 Ashbrooke Business Park in Parkside Lane, LS11 5SF.

The service is moving, so after that date, take items to Unit 7 Parkside Industrial Estate in Lenton Drive, LS11 5JW.

Donations of money are also welcome - it costs around £1,600 each month to run a foodbank. Visit www.leedssouthandeast.foodbank.org.uk