Four times the number of people are depending on the Mid West Simon Community’s Food Bank in Limerick since it opened two years ago.
Latest figures show 630 adults and 470 children are availing of the service every week.
Tracey Reddy, accommodation team leader with Mid-West Simon said: “The food bank started about two years ago and we would have seen 50 or 60 people using it on a weekly basis with up to 300 or 400 people benefiting. Now we have 1100 people benefiting from the food bank every week.”
Ms Reddy added that the ‘normalisation’ of people using a food bank to survive is ‘worrying’.
“There is something fundamental about a society, particularly societies like Ireland where you have people queuing for food. There is a need to look beyond ourselves and look to the government and what we do to support the most vulnerable in our society.”
The Mid-West Simon Community use the food bank as a way of ‘linking in’ with service users to address issues they are facing from all aspects of their life, not just food poverty:
“We want to give people support within their lives as a whole not just one aspect. The food bank grew out of a need that we were seeing from people coming to us talking about not having enough food and not having money to pay bills.
“The food bank was a direct response to what people were telling us they needed in their lives. You have to look at food banks as a whole, it is about food poverty but from our perspective it is equally about supporting people to use the food bank as a way of budgeting particularly because rents and mortgages are so high and people are really, really struggling to put food on the table.
“We would have a lot of very vulnerable people coming in, whether it is people with mental health issues, addiction issues or people who are rough sleeping they use the food bank and they also to ‘link in’. It is a way of keeping an eye on people to make sure that they are safe and they are okay” she added.
Ms Reddy explained that there is more to the food bank than just feeding people: “The other side of the food bank is all of the additional supports we provide to people. If somebody is coming in and they are in addiction we support them in looking at that and deciding if they want to go into detox and recovery or just supporting them to reduce their usage.
“Equally if people have mental health issues then we are looking at supporting them to link in with mental health services and that could be anything from making a call to going out to A&E with them if they need to go into the acute unit. The food bank is indicative of other things that are going on in people’s lives.”
Ms Reddy added that while this service helps people it is not an ideal situation for any organisation: “There is no organisation if you ask them ‘what would you hope to be doing in ten years?’. They would not want to say to you ‘we want to be running a food bank’.”
What we really need is to have people who are on incomes whether that is a wage or social welfare that it meets their needs, it pays for what they need rather than having to access additional support time and time again particularly food,” she said.