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A 'Food SOS' campaign has been launched to support food banks in Brighton and Hove as demand surges but donations fall.
Led by Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, it believes local school harvest festivals could be a crucial vehicle for emergency action as it fears the cost-of-living crisis will leave thousands of people in permanent food insecurity.
It's now calling for all city schools and other organisations to join a city-wide harvest festival scheme and drive donations to local food banks and projects, alongside sharing information to support people through the winter months.
New findings show thousands of people in Brighton and Hove now depend on week-in week-out support from charities to meet their everyday food needs.
Figures from the city's Emergency Food Network annual survey revealed a 69% drop in money and food donations, leaving charities struggling to meet demand.
More than 5,000 people in the city turned to the Network's members every week over the past year to meet their food needs - with more than 3,000 people returning regularly.
The Food Partnership will be sending out a range of digital resources to support schools in running their harvest festivals and securing donations for local food projects.
This will include templates for posters, leaflets and social media as well as suggested food bank shopping lists.
In addition, the Food Partnership has created a range of booklets with information around saving money on food - schools can share these online resources and request paper copies to distribute to families who may be struggling.
Alongside the Food SOS campaign, the Emergency Food Network has already sent an urgent appeal 6 to new Prime Minister Liz Truss, calling on the Government to put in place an immediate package of measures to address the effects of the cost-of-living crisis for people living in poverty.
This includes increasing benefit levels to meet inflation, ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit and improving the energy efficiency of people's homes.
The September announcement made by Liz Truss regarding an energy price freeze (EPG), although welcome, will not address the financial issues affecting the poorest households.
Helen Starr-Keddle, of the Food Partnership, said: "Food SOS will show how we can support our neighbours during what will be a difficult & dangerous winter for many.
We would love to see every school in the city running a Harvest Festival and seeking record donations this year.
This support is absolutely vital as beleaguered community projects run low on donations and their committed volunteers continue to support huge numbers of people at risk of malnutrition, homelessness, and mental and physical health breakdown."
Jim Deans of emergency food network member, Sussex Homeless Support, said: "Many of us feel we are now facing Armageddon, we know people will die this winter fearful of switching heating on.
The food donation chain is drying up while dependent numbers grow - we output 1,000 meals a week now. Our shelves are getting close to empty and we are forced to buy ourselves out of the problem. Where does it all end?"
Headteacher Damien Jordan of Fairlight Primary and Nursery School, said: "The cost-of-living crisis and the impact it is having on families and children is extremely worrying.
Children are going without basics on a regular basis. Parents are going without basics almost daily in order for their children to have them.
And this is not one or two per school. This is double figures in most classes. The negative impact on family and health and well-being is being seen in schools more than at any time in the past few years- including during Covid. And schools can only help so far and with so much."
Low incomes, the cost-of-living crisis and ill health/disability were the main reasons given by the Emergency Food Network's 44 members for people using their services.
Other findings from the survey showed:
There was an 18% rise in the number of people seeking help from food banks, social supermarkets and meal projects - against the backdrop of record numbers accessing projects in the two years previous due to the pandemic
More than half of the Network's members saw a rise in the numbers of people in work coming to them.
More than 60% were supporting a growing number of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers who had no recourse to other funds whatsoever.
Two-thirds of members have been experiencing significant drops in food stocks and supply.
The drop in food stocks is thought to be the result of donors themselves experiencing the effects of the cost- of-living crisis, as well as donor fatigue.