Soaring demand for food banks

The country’s oldest food bank expects to break its own record this year in terms of the amount of food it dispenses, while doubling the number of community food initiatives due to unprecedented demand.

Crosscare opened six community food initiatives in January of last year across the greater Dublin area, from Darndale to Dundrum and Blanchardstown to Dún Laoghaire.

Michael McDonagh, food services senior manager at Crosscare, said each of the community food banks was now supporting as many as 60 families a day, providing enough food for a week.

That means around 360 families being helped at any one time, but such is the demand, Crosscare is to now open another six community food initiatives, including two in Dublin city centre and others in Bray, Clondalkin, Finglas and Wicklow.

“The demand everywhere is going up,” he said. “If we could provide food packages for 120 families [in each location] we could easily give them. That’s in every area we have been in.”

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He said the food poverty issues went “right across the social spectrum” and while some clients would have experienced inter-generational poverty, others are working men and women who are seeking assistance for periods of six or seven weeks.

“Largely, they come to us for a very finite period of time,” Mr McDonagh said.

Referrals to the community food initiatives come from different sources, including charities, gardaí, and even priests, and the services are not advertised and are “discrete“, according to Mr McDonagh, who said some still viewed food poverty as being “socially unacceptable“.

The community food banks typically only open for one or two days a week in each area, but Crosscare’s main food bank warehouse has been opened since 1989 and according to Mr McDonagh, Crosscare is trying to generate more food to assist families.

“In 2012, this warehouse supplied over 500 tonnes of food for those most in need which equates to nearly 200,000 meals,” he said.

“In 2014, this increased to 1,200 tonnes [approx 480,000 meals], and already in 2015 we are rapidly approaching last year’s figure and are estimating that we will redistribute approximately 2,000 tonnes, providing we can find the food.”

The food for the initiatives and the warehouse comes from major retailers and producers and is perfectly fine but might have failed to pass quality control due to packaging issues.

Food is sourced in a similar way for the Cork-based Bia Food Initiative, which opened eight months ago but which, according to Karen Horgan of the BFI, has already distributed 120 tonnes of food — equivalent to 300,000 meals.

The Bia Initiative has already been extended to other counties in Munster, including Kerry, Limerick and Waterford, with plans for other centres elsewhere in the country.

Ms Horgan said Bia would be looking for further donations of food as there was significant demand for the food packages it was already providing.

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