Amid the current cost of living crisis, we spoke to five North Wales foodbanks based in Bangor, Llandudno, Conwy and Rhyl to hear how they are surviving this challenging period, whether donations and demand have grown or dropped, and what they see the future holding for their foodbank.

Rachel Round (Rhyl Foodbank)

Rhyl Foodbank is based in one of the most deprived wards in the whole of Wales according to the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation.

As such, it’s safe to say that it’s facing many challenges and has been for some time now.

During the pandemic, referrals to our foodbank alone trebled, and although this felt overwhelming at times, there was a real sense of a community pulling together; donations came in far and wide, and the offer of help and support always seemed close by.

Rhyl Journal: Rachel Round, Rhyl FoodbankRachel Round, Rhyl Foodbank

In May 2021, we supported 67 individual families with emergency food parcels - 89 were adults and 30 were children.

In May 2022, we supported 99 individual families with emergency food parcels - 135 were adults and 95 were children.

We know that, for many people living in our community, living on a low income is a harsh reality, which is one of the reasons we went about setting up our FareShare service during the pandemic.

While transitioning from a pandemic into "normal" life once more, we still feel the FareShare service is needed and find that people are struggling to afford the basics.

In May 2021, we supported 275 individual families (through FareShare). In May 2022, we supported 298.

The cost of living seems to be at the forefront of everyone's mind of late and we commonly hear this in the foodbank wondering about how they are going to cope.

On a Tuesday, Thursday and Friday morning, you usually find that worry, anxiety and fear fills the air, as we sit down and ask the simple question: "How are you coping?"

A picture that we are starting to see unfold is that of the older, retired generation coming through and finding it harder and harder to live on their benefits. It seems so cruel.

The amount of people using the foodbank has remained high, but unfortunately we have seen a decrease in donations.

Although we would like to see our cupboards full, we also understand that the cost of living crisis is affecting everyone and, of course, will make people more conscious about how and where they spend their money.

There are no easy answers or quick fixes when it comes to looking towards the future and how we might resolve some of our community's issues.

For the moment, we continue to provide a free hot meal once a week, open to all.

We are exploring options surrounding benefits and debt advice, and have just created a kids’ club called “Generate Juniors”, which provides a meal for a parent and a child for just £1.

We have a new cooking club that's just started called "Rookie Cookies", and the idea behind it is to teach individuals basic cooking skills on a budget, and how to make your money go further when wanting to cook.

Donations are always welcome, but we ask you only give if you are able to.

We currently need cordial, UHT milk, tinned meat, instant noodles and jams/spreads.

Naomi Wood (Bangor Cathedral Foodbank)

The foodbank here in Bangor have most definitely seen a growth in demand and are now back to the levels they were seeing pre-COVID.

COVID slowed things down as other organisations stepped in to help out then.

However, the clientele are different now. Pre-COVID, they mostly served homeless people, but they moved away during the pandemic.

They have been replaced by those who struggle on/with Universal Credit, but more and more with working people including carers and nurses.

The demand continues to grow. A little concern was shared about the possible extra demand when refugees from Ukraine arrive and the support that the council will offer, though at the moment, that seems stable and secure.

There had been a slight downturn in donations, but that seems to have turned around, thankfully. The foodbank staff asked me to thank those who are already generous with their giving and donations.

The Rotary Club, in particular, are very generous, as is a young individual who helps weekly.

Having said that, the foodbank staff shop three times a week to replenish stock. The cost of this has risen from roughly £200 a week to £500 a week, so the need for more donations is certainly needed.

A change in what people are asking for is quite clear, too.

Fray Bentos pies, which used to be extremely popular are no longer wanted as they cost too much to cook – the cost of switching on the oven is too much. In fact, anything that requires prolonged cooking is problematic.

Washing powder is asked for frequently. Although it doesn’t appear on a weekly shopping list, when it is required, it’s expensive.

Some were unable to afford to buy masks during the pandemic, so these were included in the food parcels.

UHT milk, dried pasta, tinned fruit and veg, orange juice, protein-based meals, jam and toiletries are all in high demand and would be appreciated as donations.

Baby items are also asked for regularly.

Looking to the future, the foodbank staff see an increase in demand. The autumn and winter will require heating to be switched on, which will stretch many budgets too far.

Even the summer holidays will bring challenges for young families needing to feed children. New school uniforms will also need to be purchased in preparation for the new school term.

Despite the promise of free school meals for all children, if this is to be a cold meal as is being reported, families will need to cook a hot meal after school for their children which is much more expensive.

The autumn and winter are dark times ahead.

The foodbank here works on a referral scheme, but they are able to accommodate emergency calls. The staff here recognise that circumstances can change overnight and that nobody can foresee that.

Nancy Hughes (Conwy Food Bank)

It’s just gone through the roof now.

There are people working full-time who were just managing before, but who have been really tipped over the edge now, with the increase in (prices for) food, fuel, gas, electricity… so many families are really struggling now.

May 2022 was our second-highest month ever (in terms of people using the food bank), and it’s been going since 2011.

We made 171 food parcels - 100 more than last May. That included 172 children - that was a massive increase – and 72 families, 81 parcels for single people, and 18 parcels for couples.

It’s been busy since the pandemic, and in October, when they took away the £20 Universal Credit uplift, it got busier from then, and now it’s got even worse. It’s just crazy.

And of course, people would who normally help and donate are also struggling, so we’re getting fewer donations in, and as soon as food is coming in, it’s going straight out again. We’re really struggling.

I hate to say it, but other than pasta, which is the only thing we’re not short of, we’re desperate for everything at the moment.

Jayne Black (Ty Hapus Community Resource Centre and Foodbank, Llandudno)

We’re managing at the moment because we had some really substantial donations at the end of last year and beginning of this year, and the types of things we put in food parcels have very long (sell-by) dates on them, anyway.

But in the last six to eight weeks, there has been a real drop in people donating. We’re being asked to give and support more, but people can’t afford to donate to foodbanks.

I’d say the donations have dropped already by about 50 per cent from six to eight weeks ago.

Rhyl Journal: Recent donations to Ty Hapus. Photo: Jayne BlackRecent donations to Ty Hapus. Photo: Jayne Black

We’re not complaining, we totally understand that people can’t afford to donate, and we’d like to thank everybody who donates, even if just a tin of beans, because it really is making a difference.

Some people used to come and say: ‘I’ve just finished my shopping bag with buy-one-get-one-frees, and I’m giving all of the free ones to you’.

But they don’t do buy-one-get-one-frees very often now, and people need to keep them for themselves.

The costs of the things people donate to us are going up and up every week. It’s unbelievable.

The increase (in people using the foodbank) started from about October last year. In the last two months, it’s really gone up, and we’ve seen an increase in people self-referring. They just turn up in dire straits.

I even came to work the other morning, and when I got to the gates at 8am, there was a man waiting who hadn’t eaten for two days. He was desperate.

On average, a week, we’re heading into the hundreds (of people the foodbank helps). We normally only experience that volume at Christmas.

The foodbank volunteers used to come in two or three times a week; they’re in every day now.

We always run out of long-life milk, instant mash, tinned meats, vegetables and pies, and anything that’s microwavable. It’s difficult to come up with breakfast, lunch and dinner for somebody purely in a microwave.

We did start a new session: we have so many tins of beans, and packets of pasta and rice, so for two hours in the morning, people could be given an Asda bag for life, and fill them for £3 with various things which we have an excess of.

For a £2 donation, we also had some nappies of sizes which we’ve never been asked for. There were some free items, or items maybe two days after their best-before dates: things like ketchup and jam.

All of the best-before stuff went, and with the money that people donated, we can now go and buy things we’re short of.

The feedback we got through Facebook was people saying how much it helped them… they couldn’t take more than two of the same item, or more than two bags, because we wanted to give everyone a fair chance.

I was amazed by how many people came, some of whom we’d never seen in the centre before. Some people gave us more than £3 because they said it had helped them that much.

That’s something that I think we’re going to roll out on a regular basis now. We also have a school uniform pop-up shop, which we’re going to have on at the same time (on July 15).

Brenda Fogg (Hope Restored, Llandudno)

My food parcels have doubled in the last three months. In the last month alone, I’ve given out 464 bags of food.

It’s not just families now; it’s people who are working, who are on their own, who don’t know which way to turn, and I think it’s going to get worse.

I’m really, really lucky – I’ve done 13 years of this, so I have people who drop off (donations) regularly every week, more or less, and we have a big store room, as well.

Rhyl Journal: Brenda Fogg, Hope RestoredBrenda Fogg, Hope Restored

But I’ve noticed people can no longer afford to put in things like coffee, sugar, milk which are more expensive now – we’re having to buy more of those than ever before.

I have (collection points at) Asda, TK Maxx, the Co-ops, different outlets, and people are very, very supportive there.

(We are especially in need of) tins of meat – some families are no longer using cookers, because it’s too expensive to run it, so they’re using microwaves instead.

I think, when the kids break up from school, we’re going to get harder with the families, because they’re going to be eating more at home.

But as the winter months start to come, I just think it will go manic. You just think: ‘Gosh, what’s it going to be like?’, but we’ll be there for anybody who needs it.

I’m here seven days a week, so if people need it, they’ll get food from us.