‘You can see the fear in their eyes’: Shocking numbers highlight families’ struggles to put food on the table

“Shocking and heart-breaking” statistics have highlighted the immense challenges West Norfolk families are facing to put food on the table this year.

Lynn’s food bank is currently spending £1,000 every week to top up its supplies ahead of an expected spike in demand come December.

The St Margaret’s Lane charity has already fed 20.4% more people this year than it had at this stage in 2022.

Helen Gilbert (centre), project manager at Lynn’s food bank, has seen ‘fear in the eyes’ of parents who are struggling to feed their children
Helen Gilbert (centre), project manager at Lynn’s food bank, has seen ‘fear in the eyes’ of parents who are struggling to feed their children

In the three weeks leading up to Christmas last year, 874 people were helped by the food bank. Helen Gilbert, its project manager, expects volunteers to feed between 950 and 1,000 in the same period this December.

Perhaps most worrying for her, however, is a rise in the proportion of children the Lynn facility is helping. In the past 12 months, that number has risen from 33% to 38%.

While volunteers do not normally meet these youngsters in person, they can see the impact a lack of food is having on their parents.

“We are bracing ourselves for the next three weeks,” Mrs Gilbert told the Lynn News.

“Parents, you can just see the fear in their eyes, because they want to make sure that their kids are okay and they want to keep a roof over their heads.

“People aged under ten are very over-represented at food banks across the country. It is concerning.”

In the period from May until September, the Lynn food bank also saw a 68% year-on-year increase in the number of energy vouchers volunteers had to hand out.

Mrs Gilbert says the cost of living crisis continues to be the most prominent reason behind an increase in users, and she has encountered a growing number of people in debt with little money to spend on essentials.

Recently, an inaugural Art of Giving initiative in the town raised more than £1,000 for the charity – and saw several trolley loads of vital food handed over.

This was organised by Discover King’s Lynn, the town centre’s Business Improvement District, and marketing agency Maze, which is based on the Tuesday Market Place.

Charlie Roughton, a partner at Maze, said: “Some of the statistics are shocking and heart-breaking – anything you can provide will really make an impact and help an organisation that makes such a difference.”

2022 was the first time in four years that Mrs Gilbert and her team had to purchase food to keep stock levels up – and they are currently appealing for anybody who can donate to come forward.

The food bank is currently short on the likes of tinned fruit, meat and fish, and would be delighted if anybody can provide festive items such as trifle or sage and onion stuffing.

“We like to give people a few extras in the run-up to Christmas,” Mrs Gilbert added.

“It just helps to take the pressure off.”