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Community / ‘Every tin helps’ says foodbank manager as demand rises due to cost of living crisis

Shetland News asked freelance reporter Sarah Cooper to spent an afternoon volunteering at the Shetland Foodbank to find out how best to help those in need in the run-up to Christmas

Shetland Foodbank manager David Grieve. Photos: Sarah Cooper

CHRISTMAS is always a time for giving and is usually the time of year people think about what they can do for people less fortunate than themselves.

In 2022, this is more prevalent than ever. As the winter months draw in, the harsh realities of the cost of living crisis become more apparent while people decide whether to heat or eat.

More families than ever before are finding themselves reliant on the Shetland Foodbank. It handed out 536 parcels from April to September, a rise of 57 per cent on the same period last year.

Although part of this rise is so high as the foodbank had low numbers in 2021 compared to previous years, figures released by The Trussell Trust state that in Scotland one food parcel per 47 people is handed out, while in Shetland the figure is one per 41 people.

Foodbank manager David Grieve said: “We’re seeing more working people coming for help than we have done in the past.

“We’re also seeing people coming back to us who we haven’t seen for several years. It just takes a little bit of extra pressure on their income to mean they need to come back.”

An average of 25-30 food parcels are handed out each week, but it can be up to 40. Every parcel contains many of the basics every household needs, including pasta, tea, coffee, rice, soup, tinned vegetables, toilet paper and laundry tablets.

Twice a year, they run food drives in Tesco, encouraging the public to donate “even one tin of beans” to help people who are struggling.

The next drive takes place from 1 to 3 December. Volunteers said the public has been “extremely generous” in the past, with up to 300 crates of food being donated. Grieve added: “Every tin helps.”

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The aim of the foodbank is not to be a permanent solution, but a temporary stopgap for those who need it most.

Grieve explained: “We will try to refer people on to Citizen’s Advice Bureau, or other agencies who can offer better guidance on a permanent resolution. We’re not meant to be the only solution. We can only help people when they’re struggling.”

The foodbank also works with the council’s Anchor project to provide food parcels to people in Shetland’s most remote communities.

Foodbank volunteers preparing up to 40 food parcels per week.

One volunteer who preferred not to be named, added: “It’s a Shetland foodbank, not a Lerwick foodbank.” Some parcels have gone as far as Yell and get picked up by agencies on behalf of clients.

Tesco is one of the biggest supporters of the local foodbank, with a collection always available there. Any donations from Tesco are weighed, and the company gives a cash donation towards The Trussell Trust, which is distributed to all the food banks in the UK.

So far, in 2022, Tesco has supported the Shetland Foodbank with £1,400. The Co-op and local shops across Shetland have also set up collections that supply a regular amount of food for the foodbank.

Other supporters in Shetland include EnQuest, which recently presented the foodbank with £1,000, the Hoswick Trust sent another £1,000 cheque, and Viking Energy also gave a cash donation.

Cash donations allow the foodbank to top up from their donations to ensure every person is getting the basic necessities in their food parcels.

One item the foodbank always needs is carrier bags. An average of two bags is given out per food parcel, which means up to 80 bags are used every week. People can donate carrier bags like Tesco or Co-op bags for life by posting them through the letterbox or stopping by when the foodbank is open and dropping them off.

People are referred by agencies, but they also accept self-referrals. One volunteer said: “If anyone is in need, they can come to the door and get a parcel,” with Grieve adding, “We’ll never say no.”

One volunteer who has been with the foodbank since 2017 said she got involved to help her community directly.

“When you give money to a charity, you have no idea where it goes. Food is a basic human right, and we can help people directly here,” she said.

The foodbank regularly posts updates on its Facebook page about items it is looking for, and is open from 2pm to 4pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 20a St Magnus Street.

Information about where else to get help to cope with the cost of living crisis can be found at this page on the SIC’s website.

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