Waitrose carrots 3 - farm surplus donation to FareShare

Many local organisations feeding those in need are feeling the pinch as fuel and energy costs keep on rising

Food redistribution groups and frontline charities have said the rise in living costs has affected their ability to help those in need.

Rampant fuel and energy prices are hindering food distribution networks’ operations, with the vast majority claiming they are expecting costs to double from last year.

“The rise in demand for support from struggling families is being compounded by the fact that frontline charities are themselves dealing with rising bills and fuel costs, which is disastrous when you consider that most food donations need picking up in a vehicle,” said a spokeswoman for surplus food redistribution organisation Neighbourly.

“The main challenge reported by our causes at the moment is fuel costs.”

Neighbourly added that the rise in fuel costs has become a “growing problem” for local groups, at times stopping them from meeting the mounting demand coming from food charities.

Most recently, a volunteer at one of Neighbourly’s partners was forced to stop volunteering after a month supporting the charity because it cost her in excess of £250 in fuel.

“Whilst she loved volunteering, she can’t sustain this outlay and the manager at the centre is not able to support the expenses.”

Additionally, other groups have had to reject donations because they could not afford to collect the surplus food and distribute it to those in need. Neighbourly said this was a particular issue if the collection volume was low, such as one to two trays.

According to a community survey of those in the Neighbourly network, which mainly supports food schemes, 90% said the rise in the cost of petrol was affecting their ability to pick up donations, such as food, books and other products.

Around 40% said the rise in prices was affecting them “a great amount or a lot”. Overall, 98% said the cost of living crisis was having an impact on their own organisation’s running costs, with 63% claiming “a great amount or a lot”.

Meanwhile, the UK’s biggest surplus food redistribution service, FareShare, said the increase in the cost of fuel has meant it has had to divert more funds towards transport, so it can continue delivering food.

“This is happening at a time when increases in the cost of living are having a disproportionate impact on those already struggling to make ends meet, and demand for food has never been higher,” a spokeswoman for FareShare UK said.

“The 10,000 charities and community groups we serve have told us fuel price rises are also one of the many ongoing challenges facing the vulnerable people they support.

“We are urging more suppliers and food manufacturers to get in touch with FareShare UK to help us get more of their surplus food to the charities and community groups we work with, and help people across the UK, who are being affected by the cost of living crisis, get enough to eat.”

Neighbourly’s survey also found local causes are expecting around a 50% increase in running costs over the course of this year compared with last year.

Northern-based The Bread & Butter Thing, which sells surplus food at more affordable prices, has been able to hold prices for its members because it has garnered sufficient funding to do so.

CEO Mark Game told The Grocer they were “not passing on the fuel costs to customers for the next six months”, however, he added it was “inevitable” that some price increases would make their way to members – particularly as the group’s suppliers were “very concerned” for the costs of warehouses, refrigeration and transportation in the coming months.

The Bread & Butter Thing is currently redistributing 100 tonnes of food every week to about 4,000 families. The membership-based company said it had 1,700 new people coming every month for help, which has led to massive oversubscription.

And whilst donation levels have not decreased in past months, Game said the business-to-consumer sector for food schemes was currently “so underfunded” it left them “hamstrung” when it came to expanding their hubs to more of the UK.