Foodbank predicts massive increase in requests for help

EARLY in the first lockdown, Rotherham Foodbank manager Steve Prosser said it felt like Christmas every day because demand was matching the usual December rush.

Now the actual festive season is bringing an exceptional challenge — with predictions that requests for emergency packages will be more than 60 per cent up on Christmas 2019.

“I remember sitting there one week, and seeing new person, new person, new person, as I went through the vouchers,” said Steve, who manages the foodbank based at Hope Church, Grove Road.

“Furlough has been a fantastic scheme, but if someone lives right on the edge, just making ends meet, then that 20 per cent makes a big difference.

“Donations were a concern because we were short of stuff at the time the first lockdown started. But donations over summer were unbelievable, with support from Rotary, for example.

“Some schools have still done harvests, which has amazed us. When they started back, with all the extra stuff they’ve had to do like setting up online for kids who are isolating, it’s an amazing achievement to have collected for harvest as well.”

The foodbank is part of the Trussell Trust, which has predicted a 61 per cent increase in demand compared to last winter.

An annual weekend push for donations at supermarkets went ahead two weeks ago — but had to be unmanned this year.

“Normally, we’re there handing out leaflets as well, and we find that the reward from doing that is much higher.

“It seems to have gone well but if we’ve got anywhere near previous years, we will be amazed.

“We can’t be too stocked up for this at all.”

Because of the pandemic, the foodbank’s distribution model has changed from collection to delivery — something which was previously banned by the Trussell Trust.

The preferred way of working is to have people come to you, sit and have a cuppa and a chat, which helps with signposting to other support agencies.

There is currently a team of 12 drivers taking out food parcels, along with useful leaflets for the likes of Citizens Advice and debt counselling charity Christians Against Poverty.

There are also toiletry sets in handmade bags, and the Don Catchment Rivers Trust has supplied kits for locked-down kids to grow cress and paint plant pots.

A planned shake-up of foodbank staff and volunteers — giving more specific roles to become more efficient — has been delayed by the extra challenges of 2020.

And some offers of help have had to be turned down because social distancing has limited numbers allowed at the Grove Road base.

The Food in Crisis Partnership has stepped up support across Rotherham, which has contributed to a geographical change in the people being helped by this foodbank.

Steve said: “There’s been more focus on the central centre in general, so we’re finding that we’re getting referrals from places further north like Rawmarsh and Swinton. We’re in Mexborough every week now.

“We’re delivering to places like that now, where those people might not have been ones to pop into Rotherham for the foodbank before.

“Looking at where the people who are referred are from, it’s gone up from seven per cent to 20 from there.”

Email [email protected] for more information about donating and referrals.

TOP 5

Current most-needed items at Rotherham Foodbank

1 sponge puddings

2 custards

3 carrots

4 spaghetti or ravioli

5 coffee