Published: 13:50, 27 May 2020
| Updated: 14:10, 27 May 2020
The coronavirus crisis has sparked a huge increase in people using food banks for essential supplies across the county.
The Family Food Bank, based at Seashells Children Centre in Sheerness, said it had been exceptionally busy since the outbreak began, with demand for emergency food parcels up by 278% compared to this time last year.
That means 837 parcels have been distributed this month – compared to 221 last May – providing more than 26,700 meals for those in need.
The food bank, which was set up in 2012 when the Thames Steel Mill in Sheerness closed, helps vulnerable families, individuals and elderly people on Sheppey and in Sittingbourne, Faversham, Maidstone, Ashford and Thanet.
Ian Townsend-Blazier, business development manager at Seashells, said: "During these challenging times we have seen an increase in demand for our Family Food Bank service. Thankfully, we have been able to meet this demand due to the public's kind donations of food, money and voluntary time, as well as support from grant funders and the food industry."
He added: "In order to meet this demand, we have developed new working models with existing partners and joined up with new organisations, such as social services, schools, colleges and community food hubs, to reach more communities in need and help feed the most vulnerable across Kent.
"We would like to thank everyone for their support during this time."
Centre manager Kate Townsend-Blazier added: "The Family Food Bank was set up at Seashells to support hundreds of people who lost their jobs when Thames Steel Mill went into administration.
"Since then, the food bank has expanded across Swale and into other areas of the county where there is great need.
"It's amazing, again, to see how the Family Food Bank has quickly adjusted to meet the needs and challenges Covid-19 has presented us with.
"We have seen a vast increase in the need of the service due to the pressures of food shortages, families losing jobs or being furloughed and children unable to attend schools or early years settings.
"For us, offering this service highlights the need for the community to come together and to support those less fortunate during these difficult times, which is what we are passionate about achieving and what children’s centres are all about.”
The Family Food Bank provides food parcels that consist of ambient products including cereals, pastas, soups, tinned meats, UHT milk, tinned fruit and desserts.
Each parcel roughly creates 32 meals and, as part of its new way of working, the food bank has set up a delivery service.
Mr Townsend-Blazier said: "Because of the lockdown restrictions and social distancing rules, we have had to adapt.
"95% of the work we now do is door-to-door delivering, with just 5% of people collecting food parcels.
"We support families, people who are homeless, elderly communities – anyone who is vulnerable or isolated, particularly during these challenging times."
Diana Flint, of Thanet social services, said: "As a new distribution centre that only partnered with the Family Food Bank because of the Covid-19 outbreak, I am amazed at the selection inside the parcels – even treats for the families at times, which is fabulous.
"The people we work with often have nothing and need support, it has been amazing to partner with the food bank."
Other food banks across Kent have also reacted to the sharp increase in demand.
The Trussell Trust, a network of food banks across the UK, said 81% more emergency food parcels were given out just weeks into the crisis compared to the same period last year, while demand was said to have quadrupled at Ramsgate food banks and, last month, Canterbury Food Bank said it had spent four times as much on supplies in a fortnight than it did in the previous three years.
Anyone who'd like to donate to the Family Food Bank should visit www.familyfoodbank.org or call 01233 500477.