Co-op donates £22,500 more to foodbanks hit by soaring demand during coronavirus pandemic

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The East of England Co-op is making a further donation of £22,500 to foodbanks across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, as part of a continued drive to support their vital work helping those most in need while preparing for an uncertain future.

Announced at the East of England Co-op’s Summer Foodbank Summit on June 29, the money will be shared among 24 foodbanks to support local families in food poverty after facing unprecedented demand for their services during lockdown.

It follows a £55,000 donation to the foodbanks in April, under an emergency package of support launched to help local community groups and services across the region through the COVID-19 pandemic. The East of England Co-op is the only local retailer to bring foodbanks together to ask them how it can best support them going forward.

East of England Co-op Joint Chief Executive, Niall O’Keeffe, said: “The last few months have been incredibly challenging for foodbanks across the country and in our region. This crisis has created an unprecedented situation and placed enormous strain on foodbanks as they try to cope with an intense, prolonged period of surge in demand against a backdrop of huge logistical challenges.

“As a local community retailer, we want to do as much as possible to support these amazing groups, whose dedication and commitment never wavers and ensures that vulnerable members of our community can put food on their table and not go without.

“The need for foodbanks is predicted to continue rising due to the adverse economic impact of the pandemic, and that means there will be many more challenges ahead. We’re in this for the long haul and plan further support for foodbanks in the coming months, it’s crucial that we help them build resilience.”

The East of England Co-op held its second Foodbank Summit via a virtual meeting, inviting representatives from foodbanks across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex to discuss the issues experienced during lockdown and fully understand their ongoing needs.

Keynote speakers included Maldon Elim Pentecostal Church pastor Rob Sefton, of the independent Maldon Food Pantry, and Hannah Worsley, project manager of the Norwich Foodbank, which is part of the Trussell Trust.

The Trussell Trust, a charity supporting 1,200 food bank centres across the country, has reported an 89 per cent increase in the need for emergency food parcels during April 2020, year on year. The Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) has also recorded a 175 per cent rise in demand over the same period.

While foodbanks at the summit reported significant rises in food donations during lockdown, considerable challenges have included managing increased deliveries while losing volunteers due to shielding and logistical issues, and ensuring food is distributed on time before its ‘use by’ date.

There was concern expressed about a lack of storage facilities for food donations, which would worsen when churches that have been loaning space whilst closed reopened. A more co-ordinated approach is needed for referrals with temporary, community pop-up centres required to avoid duplication of food parcels.

The switch-back from deliveries to a collection-based model would also require management of recipients’ expectations.

Future concerns included ensuring families were adequately supported throughout the school holidays, issues heightened when furloughing ends or is reduced, and also maintaining the flow of donations to be stockpiled in advance of a possible second wave of the pandemic.

Amanda Bloomfield, Chief Executive of Gatehouse foodbank in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, commented: “While members of the public have been incredibly generous with food donations over the lockdown period, it has been a huge challenge to ensure that those who need our services continue to receive them at the most challenging of times.

“We are very grateful for the support we continue to receive from the East of England Co-op in helping us reach the most vulnerable in our communities – a number that is continuing to rise.

“None of us knows what the future will bring, but we have to assume that the economic climate will get worse before it improves, and we need to be as prepared as possible to ensure that everybody who needs our help is able to get it.”