‘My dream is that no one will go to bed hungry’: food banks in churches step up support during Covid-19


Food banks run in churches are seeing wave after wave of new clients as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact families.
Meals are put in take away receptacles

Smethwick Food Bank in the West Midlands, set up a decade ago by a group of local churches and hosted by Holy Trinity Church in the town, has seen thousands more people than it helped for the whole of last year.

Amy Allan, Smethwick Church Action Network (CAN) manager, which coordinates the food bank, recalls around 80 people queuing down the street at the start of the lockdown.

“People were scared that we were not going to stay open because of the pandemic,” she said. “There has been a massive increase in first time food bank users, such as people in industry or trade, self-employed builders and window cleaners when their work disappeared under lockdown.

“We have had 100 people at some sessions – but balanced with that we have had much more in donations than we have ever had.”

Vegetables are shown in a box

A local community Covid support group set up street collections for food after asking the network how it could provide support.

The food bank is now on course to have served more than double the numbers it helped last year. This year so far, 8,355 people have been helped by the food bank compared to 5,978 people in the whole of last year.

Working alongside the food bank, the network began hosting a food club late last year.

Members join for a £4 weekly fee that allows them to have greater choice over the food they take home with a wider variety of different foods including chilled foods, frozen foods and fresh vegetables donated through the FareShare food surplus scheme.

Bags of food and provisions in the church are shown

The food club, known as a pantry, is also supplied by community allotments.

The club, run as a cooperative in partnership with Church Action on Poverty through its Your Local Pantry scheme, was hosted in a library at first but was moved shortly after its launch into a church building because of lockdown.

It has around 100 households as members and serves about 40 members a week. It has been so popular that two more pantries are being planned by the network.

A woman (left) and a man (right) stand beside lots of food and bags in a welcoming room

Revd David Gould, Vicar of Holy Trinity, said the Church of England has had a convening role for the whole community.

The food bank has the support of the area’s Sikh and Muslim communities, schools and the local authority.

"My dream with the food bank and the food pantry is that nobody will go to bed hungry in this town,” he said.