Budget measures 'won't stretch far' for Drimoleague foodbank users

Increased costs mean people who had previously got by now need help, with an increase in the number of working families seeking food assistance
Budget measures 'won't stretch far' for Drimoleague foodbank users

Volunteers at the community hall in Drimoleague Methodist Church Sandra McCormac, Esther Kingston and Shirley Alexander filling up baskets with fresh fruit and vegetables Picture Denis Boyle

"That's one thing about running a foodbank — it's extremely unpredictable."

Esther Kingston, the coordinator of the Feed West Cork foodbank, is seeing a trickle of people through the doors of the Drimoleague Methodist Hall in West Cork, when she expected more of a flood. But like so many aspects of life at present, things can change very quickly.

Ms Kingston outlines how retail surplus is provided through FoodCloud, backed by donations, including from local producers of fruit and vegetables. 

As outlined earlier this week in the Irish Examiner, that supply of surplus has become a little more unpredictable. "We have definitely seen a decrease in the amount [of surplus]," she says.

Regardless, the calls for help keep coming in. Ms Kingston says there are between 50 and 60 people on the foodbank register, of whom about 20 can be expected to collect food on a Tuesday morning between 10.30am and noon. 

The foodbank has been running since May 2020 and earlier this year the group set up a Tuesday evening equivalent between 6pm and 7pm. Sometimes this can be the busier of the two periods and attracts people who come after work.

This morning is quieter than most, due in part to car trouble affecting a group of people travelling from Bantry. Shared lifts between clients is not unusual. 

Other themes also emerge: the necessity of a household having one car, and ideally two, to get around, with public transport seen as completely insufficient; a rise in the number of families seeking help; and often at least one member of the family having a disability.

It is a story of increased costs, with fuel, energy and food pressures meaning some people who had previously got by now need help. The team at the Drimoleague hall say most visitors are in their 30s or 40s and have children. The past three months have seen an increase in the number of working families seeking food assistance.

Jason arrives in to collect his family food package. "I won't but my wife will," he says of watching Budget 2023. He says a €12 increase in social welfare payments will not stretch far. The family have children in secondary school, with all the associated costs. One child has a disability.

"My car — I put €20 diesel in it and the needle doesn't budge," he says. 

We do tell the kids that times are difficult now. Before they had a PlayStation and they would play it every day. Now they know how the bills have gone and that they can only play it on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays."

Jason knows the difference the food packages make, and so does a woman who arrives in a short time later. "I would be lost without it, put it that way," she says. "Everything, the pasta — I can make three of four dinners out of that. Everything has gone up, everything. You are cautious when you are in the shops."

Sandra McCormack used a foodbank when she lived in Cork. Now she is assisting in Drimoleague. She sees how some people might feel "ashamed" at having to look for help, but believes looking for help takes strength and courage. 

"That's what I love about being out here," she says. "A kind word can put people at ease." 

Another volunteer, Shirley Alexander, observes that with the rental crisis in urban areas, particularly Cork City, some people have moved out into West Cork.

A Ukrainian family comes in for food, and a home helper drops by to collect packages on behalf of some older people. 

A woman comes in, a rugby ball visible in the back seat of her car. She welcomes the one-off carer's allowance but says "it'll get swallowed by by the electricity". 

However, she does compare what efforts are being made here to tackle the cost-of-living crisis with that in the UK. "The Government are trying," she says, before querying why a cap can't be placed on energy costs.

"I don't want to come here every week because I know there is so many people who need it," she says of the foodbank. "There is still a stigma."

Maybe the stigma is falling away, with each family that comes to the door, with each food package issued.

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