'Not enough food to go round' say Oxford food banks as deliveries of essentials plummet

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Food charities in East Oxford say they are finding it impossible to meet rising demand for their services, as the amount of food being delivered to them has plummeted in recent weeks.

Many food banks rely on surplus food from supermarkets and other large suppliers, but deliveries of this type in the city have halved.

Local organisations suspect a combination of supermarkets tightening belts, supply chain issues as a result of Brexit, and the time of year are to blame.

Supermarkets fill their shelves in December for Christmas, and excess food gets passed on to charities. But come February that has supply has been exhausted, with harvest season still a long way away.

Fresh produce is particularly hard to get hold of as supply chains are squeezed

While community groups have seen an explosion of new requests for emergency parcels in the last six months, ongoing supply issues have meant that volunteers are increasingly faced with the heartbreaking choice between cutting back on essential parcel contents and turning some people away empty-handed. 

This leaves families who rely on community food support in an increasingly precarious position.

"I come here every week and we are getting fewer and fewer things that we can cook with," says a mother of four who regularly volunteers at the Oxford Community Action (OCA) food hub and relies on their food parcels to feed her family.

"This week we mostly got yogurt, rice krispies, and bottled water, with barely any fruit or vegetables".

The shortages are adding further strain to the tightly-resourced grassroots groups at a time when the cost of living crisis is causing the largest jump in first-time and in-work food bank use in the UK's recent history.

  • Lubna Mahmoud explains why she volunteers at Oxford Community Action

Groups like Oxford Mutual Aid (OMA), which emerged from local residents taking action on rising local food poverty at the start of the pandemic to respond to urgent local need, report that the situation today is far worse than it ever was at the height of the covid crisis. 

"The phones won't stop ringing" says Phil, one of Oxford Mutual Aid's co-ordinators, "and we have such a shortage of supply that there are large sections of the hall we use for storage where we are seeing the bare floor for the first time because there's so little coming in and so much going out."

"While we used to receive 975-1000 kilos of surplus food every week, we have been getting less with every passing month," says Hassan, one of Oxford Community Actions's lead organisers.

"We get more and more people coming but don't have enough food to share.

"We have tried to keep providing our usual 320 parcels every week by cutting back on contents, but we only received 643 kilos of food last Wednesday which forced us to reduce service to 220 parcels."

A group of nine food charities in OX4 are uniting to raise money and purchase food in bulk

An alliance of nine local grassroots organisations working to fight food inequality in the city have now come together to collectively raise funds and coordinate an emergency bulk purchase of essential and culturally appropriate staple foods at wholesale rates to plug the gap between demand and supply in the immediate term.

The OX4 Food Crew are now appealing to Oxford residents for help.

The group hopes that working together and pooling resources will allow them to purchase, store, and distribute essential supplies at scale.

This will allow them to meet the growing demand for food support in the most deprived areas of Oxford.

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