Food banks should be made a special case when it comes to food rationing by supermarkets, according to a top policing chief.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones made the appeal after news that an award-winning Conwy food bank could be forced to close by a double-whammy of restrictions brought in to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
Llanfairfechan Food Bank expects to cease operating this week after two and a half years despite a £2,500 grant from the Commissioner earlier this month.
But a bulging bank balance is no use when supermarkets limit them to a maximum of three cans of an item at a time, according to Penny Andow, one of the organisers of the food bank in Llanfairfechan, between Conwy and Bangor, which this week switched to home delivery only for social distancing reasons.
She said: “We can’t open on Wednesdays with only two staff which we are limited to after Boris Johnson’s announcements on Monday and the supermarket restrictions mean we can’t buy enough goods for our customers.
“We have had so much demand because of the epidemic that it’s just not safe to run the food bank with two people and in any case we can’t buy enough goods even though we’ve had this wonderful grant from the Commissioner which we’re so grateful for.
“We’re just caught in a perfect storm. We spend £200 every week with ASDA but last week we only received £50-worth because of restrictions caused by panic buying.
“Last week we handed over 13 food parcels at the church hall and delivered another 13 but we’ve only got enough for 30 parcels left now and they’ll be gone this week.
“It’s not just us. It’s a crisis being faced by food banks across the country. We can’t operate with only two volunteers because they’d be overwhelmed and in any case we can’t buy enough food anyway.”
Arfon Jones said: “Organisations like the Llanfairfechan Food Bank carry out a fantastic service and I was delighted to be able to give them the award.
“They are desperately needed by vulnerable people and hard-up families but now they look like being forced out of operation so where will the needy get these food essentials in future?
“I understand the supermarkets finding themselves between a rock and a hard place – they’re trying to address panic buying but this is having unintended consequences for charities like food banks.
“They should be able to carry letters identifying themselves as accredited food banks so they can buy a reasonable quantity without stripping the shelves of all stock.”
Ms Andow, a member of Llanfairfechan and Conwy County Councils, said: “We set up the food bank two and a half years ago after it was reported to us that a local family of five were actually scavenging the recycling food bins.
“It’s run very successfully since then and we have worked well with Conwy County Council to operate it every Wednesday between 1 and 2pm and we have handed out about eight food parcels and delivered the same number.
“Last week though the numbers were up and we were almost overwhelmed at the Church Hall where we were grateful for the help of local PCSO Sara Owen but I don’t think we’ll be able to continue in future.
“I think the role of food banks will have to be taken on by the Army while this crisis continues.”
Their average food parcel usually contains tins of pasta sauce, peas, carrots, soup, beans, rice pudding, custard, steak pie, fish and ham, packets of cereal, rice and dried mashed potato, tea and coffee, and dog and cat food for pet owners.
They received a Your Community Your Choice award from the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner earlier this month as one of 20 organisations across North Wales which shared over £45,000 in grants after being voted for by the public.
The money comes from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Your Community Your Choice initiative which is supported by the North Wales Police and Community Trust (PACT).
It was the seventh year of the awards scheme and much of the more than £200,000 handed out to deserving causes in that time has been recovered through the Proceeds of Crime Act, using cash seized from offenders with the rest coming from the Police and Crime Commissioner.
The scheme is aimed at organisations who pledge to run projects to tackle anti-social behaviour and combat crime and disorder in line with the priorities within the Police Commissioner’s Police and Crime Plan.
For more information on the work of the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office go to https://www.northwales-pcc.gov.uk/en/home.aspx