January is always one of the busiest months for food banks, says Tom.

In the first few weeks after Christmas, finances are often tight, he explains.

But this January was the busiest at Wythenshawe Foodbank with more food parcels provided in a single month than in the first two months of last year. Manager Tom Allan is worried that things will only get worse.

“If people can’t afford to make ends meet now,” the 28-year-old asks apprehensively, “what are they going to do when energy bills go up again in April?”

The food bank, which was created in 2016, fed 427 people last month. Tom says he is seeing more working people and single parents who have never had to use a food bank before and now find themselves with no other alternative.

People whose salaries are supplemented by benefits are trying to balance working overtime with the cost of childcare, according to Tom. In many cases, they find that doing more shifts at work means they’ll be worse off, he explains.

People struggling with debt are also increasingly using the food bank, he adds. Last year, debt was the main reason for only 2% of referrals; now it is below 10%.

Anyone can use the food bank that moves around town to different locations each day, but they do require a referral to get a food package coupon. Tom says most of the referrals in Wythenshawe come from housing associations whose tenants can’t afford to feed their families once the rent is paid.

But vouchers can also be issued by schools, the council or even healthcare professionals. Tom is willing to work with as many organizations as possible.

“We started getting phone calls from doctors saying their patients were hungry,” he says. “So now we’re also bringing in doctors and midwives.”

But along with the increase in demand, there has been a drop in donations. In fact, the food bank saw donations cut in half in 2022 compared to the previous year.

The food bank, which is part of the Trussell Trust network, has already spent more money buying food this year than in all of last year. Tom worries where donations will come from as more people struggle to feed themselves and corporate donors tighten the purse strings after the pandemic.

The biggest drop has been from companies that donated 35,242 kg of food in 2021, representing 41% of donations, but only contributed 5,724 kg last year. People now account for nearly half of donated food, but even these donations were down by more than 10 percent last year compared to 2021.

Tony Petrou, who is one of the trustees of Wythenshawe Foodbank, explained that as more people are affected by the cost of living crisis, fewer can afford to donate. Despite this, the generosity within the community has not disappeared.

Just before Christmas, he remembers two ladies who donated a trolley full of £53 worth of groceries during a drive at Asda supermarket in the city centre. People who can’t afford to donate as much still help out as they can.

“We have had people just donate a Freddo because they just want to help,” he said. “That’s one of the great things about this community: people just want to help each other.”

Tom, who grew up in Gorton, has worked at Wythenshawe Foodbank for almost two years. He will soon be moving to the city that he is now so passionate about.

The food bank manager says Marcus Rashford’s campaign to feed hungry children inspired generosity in the city where the Manchester United star grew up. But he says “compassion fatigue” has set in since the pandemic.

With the energy price cap due to rise in April, Tom is ‘praying’ for a warm summer. “If it’s raining, then I hate to think what it’s going to be like,” he adds.

Energy costs have also affected the way the food bank operates. With diesel prices skyrocketing, Tom says the van should now be used more sparingly.

However, the ‘manic’ month of January has only motivated staff and volunteers to help more people access the food bank. Tom views the service they provide as a “stepping stone” for those facing a period of crisis.

“When things go wrong, people call us on the phone crying and saying they don’t know what to do,” he says. “Especially people who have never used a food bank before.

“We pick up the pieces when things fall apart.”

For more information about Wythenshawe Foodbank, visit the website at wythenshawe.foodbank.org.uk, email (email protected) or call Tom on 07518198645.

People can be referred to food banks through Manchester council by calling the cost of living advice line on 0800 023 2692 Monday to Friday, 9am to 4.30pm Manchester residents can also they can get help through the council’s Helping Hands website by visiting www.manchester.gov.uk/helpinghands.

Council leader Bev Craig said: “We know the cost of living crisis is pushing people across Manchester into incredible hardship. As a council, our highest priority is to provide as much support as possible to families who are struggling during this time.

“Through our dedicated cost of living support line, we have already helped hundreds of people, either by providing them with access to food banks or connecting them with services that provide financial support. We will also continue to use our voice to pressure central government to increase and expand welfare provision during these unprecedented economic times.”


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