Food bank demand in Exmouth at pandemic levels, as cost of living crisis takes hold

Volunteers at Exmouth Food Bank sorting goods

Volunteers at Exmouth Food Bank sorting goods - Credit: Exmouth Food Bank

The rising cost of energy and fuel is forcing more families to seek the help of Exmouth Food Bank to put meals on their table.  

Exmouth Food Bank – previously known as the Exmouth Community Larder – has for many years been there for people struggling to make ends meet, but, as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, the number and profile of people using the service is drastically changing, with demand now at Covid-19 pandemic levels.  

Prior to Christmas 2021, the town’s independent Food Bank, based at the Salvation Army HQ in Sheppards Row, had been providing vital food supplies for those in need – many of these were single men who had slipped through the benefits net for one reason or another.  

Four months on, they are now seeing small and large families come forward as they struggle to make ends meet on a monthly basis under the increasing pressure of mounting bills.  

Between January and March this year, the volunteer-run food bank distributed 726 food parcels – which contain cupboard essentials topped up with items like fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs and milk – feeding 1,425 people. According to volunteer secretary Sue Owen-Evans, they are currently distributing 60 parcels a week, feeding 120 people.  

A typical food parcel distributed by Exmouth Food Bank

A typical food parcel distributed by Exmouth Food Bank - Credit: Exmouth Food Bank

She said: “We’re now starting to see a 10 per cent rise in demand month-on-month.  

“We are now at Lockdown Three levels of demand. For example, in April – and we are only two weeks in – we have provided food to support 330 people. We could be looking at helping more than 500 people this month.  

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“We have seen a shift to families – more than 50 per cent of parcels are going to families.  

“These are families where often one person is working, possibly two, but they’re on zero-hour contracts or minimum wage and they just cannot make ends meet.  

“So, by week three in a month, they haven’t got any money for food.  

A volunteer working at Exmouth Food Bank

A volunteer working at Exmouth Food Bank - Credit: Exmouth Food Bank

“The situation is only going to get worse. At the moment, people are just starting to get their new utility bills. There is the anxiety over getting those bills which when combined with the cost of fuel prices at the moment is putting people under severe financial pressure. 

“Looking at what’s causing the food poverty – there were people at the beginning of the year who were just coping but that has now turned into not being able to cope.”  

The foodbank has also seen larger families – those with three or four children - come forward for help.  

The foodbank is now starting to see certain groups of people who are becoming regular users:  

  • People caught between furlough payments ending and waiting for their first pay cheque 
  • Those who are in or are going to be in debt  
  • People who have had to go into emergency accommodation after being evicted from their homes as Government rent schemes have ended.  

However, despite the growing demand, the food bank remains very well stocked due to the generosity of Exmouth people, whether that be from food donations or financial help.  

Sue added: “Exmouth is brilliant in the way it rallies.  

“We have found the amount of food that people are donating has stayed fairly constant.  

“But the issue we have is that demand is increasing. Our food stocks are made up of 70 per cent donated food, with 30 per cent purchased in by us, which is why financial donations are so important.  

“We are finding that people are still kindly coming forward with cheques, cash and standing orders to support us.”  

Sue paid tribute to East Devon District Council, which the food bank works closely with, saying their officers have gone the ‘extra mile’ when someone needs help.  

The food bank also works closely with Citizens Advice and Exmouth Open Door, signposting people to the services available.  

The Exmouth Food Bank's help desk in action

The Exmouth Food Bank's help desk in action - Credit: Exmouth Food Bank

“Covid-19 has taught us that as a food bank we shouldn’t exist in isolation. We need to work as a community to address food poverty,” said Sue.  

“We’re non-judgemental, we understand the position that people are in and we can help.”  

If you or someone you know is struggling to put food on their table, Exmouth Food Bank may be able to help. To find out more, visit https://exmouthfoodbank.org.uk/ or ring the helpline 07749 322291.