Steve Clay, CEO, Cambridge City Foodbank
The winter period and in particular, December, is always the busiest time for the Foodbank. Last December, we distributed over 63% more emergency food parcels than in the August of the same year. While many people associate the festive period with family, gifts and indulgence, at the Foodbank, each December presents an ever-increasing challenge to meet the stark rise in the need for food aid across Cambridge. Sadly, we are now entering an impossible situation where need could outweigh donations, and more people than ever before are going to be forced to choose between heating and eating.
This year has already been tough and, while the recent drop in inflation figures is welcomed news, we have noticed almost no positive impact in our welcome centres. For the first time in our 13 year history, we have provided more than 1,000 people with emergency food support each month; in October, we experienced the same level of need as we did in December 2022!
The pressure being felt by our volunteers is tangible and, in our warehouse, they are fighting an uphill battle each day in order to ensure that the food is processed quickly enough to meet the need. A number of them are also volunteering for extra shifts to ensure that no one goes hungry. We have introduced a new volunteers’ wellbeing programme to ensure they are supported as all of them are heroes, but this simply isn’t sustainable.
In the midst of this unprecedented need, it is difficult to imagine a brighter future, but we genuinely believe that we can, and eventually will, eradicate food insecurity in Cambridge. Earlier this year, we partnered with Cambridge Citizens Advice to provide our visitors with access to a financial advisor within our Foodbank welcome centres. Since May, we have supported around 150 people, who have gained over £100,000 worth of financial support. The impact that this money has made to the lives of our visitors is astronomical.
It is important to remember that the money unlocked through our financial inclusion project is money that our visitors are legally entitled to, but because of the complexity of the system, were previously unable to access. The current system is prohibitively involved and, in many cases, provides inadequate funds to cover even the most basic essential items required to feed and clean oneself, forcing people to turn to the Foodbank for support.
While the winter period is a particularly busy period for the Foodbank, it is ultimately symptomatic of an overall picture of growing poverty in Cambridge. The issues behind the rise in the need for foodbanks are systemic and the current social security system is too complicated and does not provide those in need with the funds required to cover their basic essentials.
For this reason, we are calling for change and demanding that the government Guarantees Our Essentials. The campaign seeks to reform the social security system, as the current system is simply keeping people trapped in poverty.
If you are reading this and feel inspired to enact change, please reach out to your local Councillors and MPs and ask what they are doing to combat food insecurity in Cambridge and consider their response when you next head to the polls. Regardless of your political beliefs, I think we can all agree that in the second wealthiest city in England, the current level of poverty is unacceptable and something needs to change.
We are working tirelessly to break the cycle of increased demand in winter, but we are in the midst of a crisis and we need your support. If you are able to, please donate food at our supermarket collection points across Cambridge, or visit our website to make a financial donation. If you cannot give financially but would like to support with your time, we are also in need of additional volunteers to support our staff in the warehouses. So if you are able to volunteer for a couple of hours a week, please email: [email protected].
To sign the Guarantee Our Essential petition, visit: https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-involved/campaigns/guarantee-our-essentials/
To learn more about donating to the Foodbank, visit: https://cambridgecity.foodbank.org.uk/