The demand for food parcels across Skye and Lochalsh in the first six months of 2020 has outstripped the whole of 2019, according to the chairperson of the community foodbank.
In an in-depth interview with the Free Press conducted last week, Davina McCluskie, who chairs the Community Foodbank Skye and Lochalsh, said there has been a “huge spike in self-referrals” amid the impact of Covid-19 and highlighted many young single people and larger families among those worst affected.
Davina praised people across the area for their “overwhelming” help and support during the current crisis but contended that for food poverty to be properly combatted the government needs to address the root causes of the issue rather than simply applying “a plaster”.
Free Press reporter, Adam Gordon asked Davina about the challenges involved in the fight against food poverty, including what impact Covid-19 has had on the foodbank, what support has been made available, and whether she could ever conceive a time when food banks would not be required…
Impact of Covid-19
Davina McCluskie: (DM): “We have given more out in the first six months of this year – when you take into account Broadford – than in the whole of 2019.
“And that spike happened within a week of lockdown, so a huge impact with regards to the food having to go out.”
DM: “We have been able to access funding especially at the beginning (of lockdown) in March/April when the funding came out.
“We were able to access funds from the Highland Council and other schemes out there like the Wellbeing Fund very easily and quickly, so that was a huge boost for us.
“Also, public donations – financial donations – were overwhelming, really overwhelming
“At the beginning of this, as most people remember, the shelves in the supermarket were not very well-stocked – there was the crisis of being unable to access basic foods – and people were extremely generous in their financial donations.
“The local support has been phenomenal.”
A huge spike
DM: “Before lockdown, before Covid-19, we worked mainly with organisations such as NHS, social work, and CAB (Citizens Advice Bureau), and they would come and collect food from us and deliver it to people who had requested it.
“Since, Covid-19, we have seen a huge spike in self-referrals – so individuals approaching us directly to access food, these have been broad, there has been a lot of young single people and larger families – who are struggling.”
Help from the Government
In April 2020, the Scottish Government announced a £70 million fund for food projects to provide emergency free meals to those most in need during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Food Fund comprises £30 million for food deliveries for the ‘shielded’ groups at highest clinical risk, and a further £30 million to local authorities for free school meals and food support for older people, those with long-term health conditions and pregnant women.
The remaining £10 million is for critical third sector and community response organisations, which includes funding so far of £500,000 each for Social Bite, FareShare, and Cash for Kids.
Addressing the matter of the Government’s role in eradicating food poverty, Davina said that deeper-rooted matters had to be tackled.
Davina McCluskie: “There was an enormous amount of money invested into funding foodbanks – but that initiative was set-up before Covid – and while we welcome support, and we will take, gratefully, any funds that are offered to us, and any food that is offered to us – because we need it – personally, I and a lot of volunteers here feel that we don’t want a food bank.
“We don’t want to be here doing this interview, and packaging bags, we don’t want to see people going hungry, and personally, I would like to see money invested to address the root causes of this, and try to find some balance within our society.
“People wait until they are desperate before they come here – people don’t think, ‘Oh I have just run out of food’, I’ll pop down to the food bank’, it doesn’t work like that.
“We will fill a bag to feed a single person for three to four days, but really it isn’t much. It’s tinned food, and we do our best with what we’ve got. But I think society; our leaders, our government, need to look at the root causes and invest more in that, instead of sticking a plaster on the problem.”
South end of the island
DM: “We used to deliver down to the south end, and then the food bank got up and running there in January/February, it was set up and ready to work, literally, just in time.
“We have been able to focus on getting as much food out as we can in the north, and we have two teams now working for Skye and Lochalsh – we are going right over to Kyleakin and we have even extended a kindness box over to as far as Lochcarron.
“It just goes to show how much need there is across the whole region.”
Rosie Woodhouse volunteers with the Broadford branch of the food bank as an administrator.
Speaking to the Free Press this week, she said that the need for help had increased substantially in the south of the island.
Indeed statistics show that the number of bags of food distributed in June in the south end of Skye is more than doubled the figure for March.
“We really intended the food bank to be a small outpost of the operation in Portree, but we have now become as busy as the Portree operation as we take in the whole of south Skye and Lochalsh as well,” said Rosie.
“We are now giving out probably 40 parcels a week – we have outreach operating in Broadford, operating in Sleat, in Breakish, and an outreach in Lochcarron as well.
“We have worked with the food share set up by Broadford and Strath Community Company, and with their hot meals provision, the three things have been intertwined in Broadford, and we are just seeing ever-increasing uptake in the need for food assistance.”
She added: “I can’t take it in that we have gone from not having any food banks in the UK 10 years ago to now having hundreds.
“Until there is a seismic change in society, I can’t see the need for food banks going away.
The broadford-based branch of the foodbank is currently located in the Co-op.
Will food banks ever become obsolete?
Davina McCluskie: “I live in hope, I look forward to the day that we can close the doors on these.
“In the reality that we live in right now, I can’t see it.
“Until there are investment and responsibility taken by the heads of the governments to address what’s further down the ladder, and until we address the root causes, I can see much changing I’m afraid.”
DM: “You can come directly to us, via the website or the Facebook page, or email us.
“If you are just going to your GP or want to phone up Skye Community Response, or anyone, they will direct you to us or get in contact with us.
“We don’t have a referral system, if you need food we will give it to you no questions asked.”
The Community Foodbank Skye and Lochalsh is located in Portree Parish Church Hall, Portree, Isle of Skye. For more information, you can visit their Facebook page by clicking here.
You can also email the foodbank by using the following address: email@example.com
To visit the website, where you can find out everything you need to know, including how to donate and volunteer, just click on the image below.