As Christmas draws closer and temperatures drop, food banks around the country are preparing for a difficult winter. Ivybridge food bank are appealing for donations as they anticipate the next few months to have a high demand.

Karen, volunteer and trustee at the food bank said: “Demand is at really high levels post-covid. The cost of living crisis has caused more people and more working people to use the food bank, (as well as) older people and older people that are living alone.”

She explained how the winter is especially difficult for those on their own as heating houses is much harder when there is only one person in the residence.

The food bank are also seeing “far more working people that are on zero hour contracts” needing their help, as everyone feels the pinch due to the cost of living crisis.

People with long term illnesses are finding it particularly difficult. 

Karen said: “Cancer patients are really struggling. They need to keep things warm whilst they’re going through horrendous treatments.”

The food bank is completely run by volunteers, and it is no small feat providing food for members of the community. 

The food has got to be collected from permanent collection points around the area, bought back to be weighed, sorted and checked for dates, as some of the food they receive is out-of-date. The donations are then taken to the warehouse to be stored. 

Most clients collect the items from the food bank, but they do offer delivery in exceptional circumstances, for cancer patients and those that can’t afford the bus fairs or have issues with transport. 

She said: “We have a really good team. They respond to anything we ask to… they (always) turn up.”

However, she explained that they are desperately in need of donations: “Donations are down. I think its an effect of the cost of living crisis.” 

The winter months are particularly bad: “last year was hideous,” she said. 

The National Tesco collection and financial inclusion grant from Citizens Advice help, but they rely on the generosity of local people.

The food bank is part of a collection of groups that are working together in Ivybridge to ensure that people in the community are looked after.

Karen explained that whilst the food bank works to ensure people have food and essentials, the Salvation Army distributes toys to children, and the town council helps elderly people who are lonely. 

The food bank also has visits from Citizens Advice South Hams, with a lady that comes in regularly to talk to local people using the service and give advice. Karen said: “She’s available to make sure everyone’s getting things they are entitled to… sometimes there are energy grants they’re not aware of.”

She explained how they work as a team to support the community and help each other out: “In Covid we all partnered together... we partnered with the rotary and they’re still with us, which is really nice. They never went away.”

Working at the food bank is an eye-opening experience to the day-to-day struggles some families are experiencing in Ivybridge, with rising housing and rental costs meaning for many living conditions are deteriorating and the threats of homelessness are becoming more real.

Karen described one experience that was “really poignant” whilst she was conducting a delivery for the Salvation Army at Christmas time: “Last year I was out delivering toys to a client I knew would be in trouble over Christmas…. When I arrived she said she had just managed to get the water going. The boiler had gone and she hadn’t had any hot water for three months.”

The landlord had told the tenant that it was her responsibility to fix the hot water, which is just one example of the issues being faced by people in the local community every day. 

“Mortgage rates have risen and evictions are happening when the (tenants) can’t afford the rent anymore and (there are) people with no where to go,” said Karen. 

She described how one family’s landlord increased their rent from £800 to £1300 a month because he couldn’t afford to keep it at that price. 

“People are also really scared….(of becoming) homeless,” she added.

The food bank have an Amazon wishlist, and permanent collection points at Tesco Lee mill, Nature’s Larder, both Co-ops in Ivybridge, and the library. 

Karen said its amazing seeing local people help raise funds or donations. Lorcan (pictured) conducted his own collection for the food bank during the pandemic. 

“We’re very lucky that we live in a generous community. We couldn’t do it without the public.”

But they need support to continue their important work. “We are constantly amazed by the donations that come in, but they are dropping.”

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