Requests to foodbanks double as recession bites
Lower Hutt Community Foodbank – open to all Hutt people – is assisting about a 100 families each week.
“Thirty-seven families is a bad day,” says co-ordinator Bev Foster, pointing to last Friday’s statistics. “We’re getting an extra 20-odd per week.”
She has given out 750 more parcels over the last 10 months than in the entire year before, and says: “I don’t care where they live, if they need food, they need food.”
One parcel per week per family is the limit the foodbank imposes to make sure their stocks – which come from supermarket donations and the yearly food-drive – do not run out.
The biggest group is occasional users of the foodbank, who seek help when they get a big bill (doctor, vet or power), and they are not necessarily beneficiaries.
“A lot of people on low income, it’s as low as the benefit,” says Mrs Foster.
Some beneficiaries she sees are not aware they have a food entitlement of $200 per 26 weeks (for a single person), and she helps people access this through WINZ.
Salvation Army foodbank manager Brian Fleming agrees a lot of people they see do not know about their food entitlement, but also says because of high staff turnover, a lot of WINZ staff do not know what people are entitled to.
Staff at the Salvation Army foodbank provide food only when someone’s food entitlement is used up, or if on a low wage, staff have seen a recent bank statement. They are still seeing 700 new families a year.
“We’re the last port of call, not the first,” says Mr Fleming, who has managed the foodbank for five years. “We’re here to help them out, not make them dependent.”
On average, they will see families once or twice: “They’re in a bit of a dip in their life, a bit of a hole, you help them out and you don’t see them again…we feel good about that.
“They learn about Jesus here too,” he says with a smile. “That’s what Jesus said, ‘feed the poor and the hungry’.”
While some foodbank users ask Salvation Army staff to pray with them, Mr Fleming says they are careful not to manipulate this, because the people who come for food are vulnerable.
An average food parcel will include basics like bread, margarine, tinned goods, cleaning products, teabags or coffee, and pet food, with the odd luxury item depending on donations.
Smaller foodbanks operate strictly for locals in Stokes Valley, Wainuiomata and Upper Hutt, and these too have seen more families this winter.
June Passmore at Upper Hutt foodbank estimates she is seeing about 50 families a week, double the number she saw this time last year.
“It’s just increased. It’s people’s power bills – they just can’t cope,” she says. “It’s humiliating for them, people fallen on hard times, in between jobs.”
Mrs Passmore refers families she sees five times on to budget advice, and as with other foodbanks relies on the generosity of donations to make sure she has enough food.
Maureen Kemp at the Wainuiomata foodbank is also seeing double the number of families this winter, up from three or four families per week to eight, many of whom are new to her.
They provide emergency food for just a couple of days, especially prioritising children by making sure Weetbix and milk are always available.
The message about donations is the same from all the foodbanks – they need them badly.
Esther Weinberg, store manager at the Salvation Army family store in Lower Hutt, says they have had more donations of food and other goods this winter, which has helped them keep up with the increase in need.
“People in Lower Hutt are very, very generous,” she says.
Bev Foster at the Lower Hutt foodbank says local supermarkets are also very helpful with donations of bread most days, as well as other goods, but the annual food drive on September 20 when a plastic bag for donations is delivered with every Hutt News cannot come quickly enough this year.
PHOTO: Salvation Army foodbank manager Brian Fleming with donated goods available for families in need.