Islington food bank announced a closure this week, with other centres expected to follow.
18 March 2020 12:00 AM

'A perfect storm': Food banks face uncertainty as coronavirus crisis deepens

18 March 2020

By Natalie Bloomer

This week, the Islington food bank became one of the first to announce that it would be closing due to the coronavirus pandemic. With dwindling donations and more and more people needing to self-isolate, it's likely they won't be alone.

Food banks rely on the very products that many people are busy stockpiling. Bags of pasta, tins of beans or tomatoes and long-life milk are essential items in an emergency food package. Not only are many organisations seeing donations of this type fall, there are also restrictions being placed on the number of items allowed to be purchased at supermarkets, meaning food bank staff often can't top up stock levels themselves.

Another problem is the volunteer base. At the food bank that I help out at, a large number of the people who keep it running would be classed as high-risk for corona due to their age or health issues. This is the same at many food banks.

The people needing food are often unable to get to the food bank because they are self-isolating. Some places are arranging home deliveries, but this will depend on the size of the operation and will need enough volunteers to make it happen. In many areas it will simply not be an option.

There is often a lack of understanding about the amount of work that goes into running a food bank. It starts with the donation of items. They can come in by the trolley-load. All of it needs to be sorted in expiry date order and stored by category. Then individual standard parcels need to be packed and ready for when people arrive, making sure there is enough essential food for all different family sizes. Finally, once you're ready to hand the food out, volunteers will swap and add items depending on different needs – some people are vegetarians, for instance, some can't eat pork, some are dairy intolerant.

All of that is before you even get to the admin side or the time spent talking to people about their problems and referring them to suitable agencies. Without enough volunteers, all of this becomes incredibly difficult.

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