Demand for food banks in Northern Ireland has soared by almost 150 percent because of Covid-19, figures have revealed.
This April the number of emergency food parcels given out by The Trussell Trust locally rose 142 percent compared to the same time last year.
The data, released today, shows the number of children seeking support from their 22 food banks in Northern Ireland also jumped by 128 percent.
The trust has written to every MLA to bring in “emergency measures” to shore up social security.
Paul Armstrong, the Trust’s operations managerI, said free food isn’t a solution.
He said: “It’s not right that Covid-19 has meant some of us don’t have enough money for essentials and are being pushed to food banks.
“The problem is financial hardship, the answer to financial hardship is not food.
“The government needs to reduce the flow of people who need food banks rather than increasing the level of support food banks are able to meet.”
The trust wants an extension to welfare mitigation and direct payments in lieu of free school meals to continue until all schools reopen.
Mr Armstrong added: “These aren’t long term. Right now we don’t want people to be in crisis because of Covid-19 – they’re practical asks and I think they’re realistic asks.”
Bruce Gardiner-Crean runs the trust's food bank in South Belfast.
He wants a longer term remedy for people in need.
He said: “Tonight people will get a food parcel and that will be the short term answer but the deeper need is what we want to unpack.
“We are not the answer, food banks are not the answer.”
Mr Armstrong said coronavirus had turned the service on its head “overnight”- from a face-to-face resource to contact-free food delivery.
The way they get supplies has also shifted after food donations dropped off and essentials were bought up by panicked shoppers.
So supermarkets like Tesco stepped in.
He said: “Tesco and FairShare, they’re giving us food deliveries helping us stay afloat.
“The public have been fantastic and donated money so food banks can buy their own food – something we haven’t had to do in the past but have to do now.”
Covid-19 has cut South Belfast Food Bank’s volunteer base by two-thirds – but those who can have stepped up, Mr Gardiner-Crean said.
He added: “It’s been tough but I feel the lifeblood of our organisation is our volunteers and we couldn’t do what we do without them turning up, showing up and saying ‘I’m in this for the long haul’.”
Across the UK demand for food banks has surged 89 percent. The number of children being supported has also risen by 107 percent.
In NI, smaller food banks mean the percentage increase is significantly higher.
Mr Armstrong said: “Whilst Northern Ireland has seen significant increases in need for food bank support in keeping with the rest of the UK, we aren’t drawing direct comparisons.
“During the crisis, our data has shown that small food banks are more likely to see the biggest percentage increases in need.”