King’s Lynn Foodbank project manager Helen Gilbert stocking up during the Your Local Paper Winter Appeal. Picture: Ian Burt

Huge increases in the number of people using King’s Lynn Foodbank has left the charity in need of urgent help to restock its supplies.

Increases in food, fuel, heating and lighting bills – coupled with government cuts to benefits and Norfolk County Council withdrawing meal vouchers for children during the recent school holiday – led to a crisis over the Easter fortnight which saw use of the food bank skyrocket by an incredible 171 per cent, its manager said.

The period saw 261 people use the food bank, compared to just 96 during the same spell last year when the government was still topping up Universal Credit by £20 and the county council was running its food voucher scheme.

March this year also saw 609 people use the food bank, compared to 438 during the same month in 2021.

Food bank project manager Helen Gilbert said: “During the school holidays we saw a 171 per cent increase in the number of people we fed, which is an astounding and worrying increase.”

Mrs Gilbert said people were struggling to feed their families due to large increases in bills alongside the cuts.

During the pandemic, when Westminster was topping up Universal Credit and County Hall ran its food voucher scheme, people who had previously used the food bank stopped visiting – only to return when the cuts kicked in, she explained.

She said: “This shows what a difference the £20 top up and the vouchers made. That little bit extra meant they didn’t need the food bank.

“Supplying free school meal vouchers during holidays is not a vast cost but it makes a huge difference to the families we see. Not many councils have got rid of the vouchers so I don’t understand why Norfolk County Council has done this.”

The council has previously said it has emergency programmes which families in need can apply for help from.

However, Mrs Gilbert said: “People don’t always need emergency support, sometimes they just need help to keep ticking along.”

She said how one client has four part-time jobs but still struggles to make ends meet.

“When that is the case, something is very wrong with our society. It is heart-breaking,” said Mrs Gilbert.

“I appreciate everyone is tightening their belts with the rising cost of living but the people who need us have already tightened their belts and cannot tighten them any more.

“The people of West Norfolk are wonderful and although I appreciate everyone is feeling the pinch, we are seeing more and more families in need and even just buying one extra tin with your weekly shop, and dropping it in our collection bin at the supermarket, can help make all the difference.”

Food bank staff are also on hand to give advice and the centre has a dedicated Citizens Advice Bureau advisor who can help with financial issues such as debt.

The food bank currently has plentiful supplies of pasta and baked beans, but urgently needs soup, tinned tomatoes, instant noodles, packet mixes, sauces, spreads, tinned rice pudding, custard, chocolates and treats, as well as other personal essentials such as deodorant, conditioner and washing powder.

Donation bins can be found at Sainsbury’s stores in Lynn, Tesco in both Lynn and Gaywood, Asda in South Wootton, and Poundland on the Hardwick Estate, Lynn.

The food bank is at TS Vancouver in St Margaret’s Lane. See kingslynn.foodbank.org.uk for opening times.