FOOD BANKS and community larders across the county are calling for systemic change to how food poverty and food insecurity are both perceived and managed.

Recent figures from the Trussell Trust, a charity campaigning to end the need for food banks in the UK, showed that between April 2020 and March 2021, during the pandemic, compared to the same time the year before.

Jane Benyon, who founded CEF said: “We are certainly having higher levels than previous years.

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“We almost trebled our figures at the beginning of the pandemic, doubling over Christmas and the three or four months of winter.”

She added that there had not been a dramatic rise in families needing food packages, but clarified that this may be because a lot of schools were providing food parcels.

CEF provided 4745 meals between April 2020 to March 2021 - more than 1,000 more than the previous year.

Mrs Benyon also highlighted that although her organisation had seen a sharp increase in those relying on emergency food parcels, there were several initiatives set up in the pandemic to specifically assist food poverty throughout the national crisis.

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While the pandemic exacerbated the numbers of people in food poverty, due to individuals being furloughed or losing their jobs volunteers who work at the food banks have said food insecurity was always a problem, even before Covid, but now more people are listening.

Muireann Meehan Speed, who works at Oxford Mutual Aid, said: “Food poverty and food insecurity was a massive problem before Covid.

“The pandemic highlighted this, and people lost their jobs or were on furlough, but separate to this, it is not surprising after living in a society with massive inequality and years of austerity.”

Oxford Mutual Aid, a charity that provides food parcels as well as support for households with new and expectant mothers, was created as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite only being a year old, the organisation provides weekly food parcels to 315 households consisting of at least 470 adults, 300 children, and 54 babies.

Ms Speed said: “What Oxford Mutual Aid is doing is absolutely essential – but it should not be the answer, it should not be relied upon, we need a massive systemic change to help those experiencing food poverty.

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“The best way to lift people out of food poverty is giving people money, but there is still a lot of shame and stigma.

“Some people focus on the abuse of the system, yet do not stop to acknowledge how big a need is out there.”

Oxford Community Action is another organisation that was founded during the pandemic.

It aims to help BAME communities tackle and overcome barriers created by structural inequalities.

The group also started providing emergency food packages as a response to the crisis that had been spurred on by Covid-19.

Mujahid, who is a co-director of the organisation said: “When we started just over a year ago, we had 40 families we knew we would be providing for – by the end of the first week that rose to 540 families.

“We still have a lot of families that require parcels, and it doesn’t seem like it is going to reduce anytime soon either.

“The pandemic highlighted a lot of issues that people were not talking about, like how a lot of BAME communities were already struggling in precarious employment and didn’t have very good job security, and the pandemic made things a lot worse for people.

“Those people are still going to take some time to get back into employment, which could take several months, and so we have made a commitment to those people that we are still going to be here.”

Other organisations across the county that also help provide cheaper sources of food and essential household items have also seen a significant increase in users since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Rose Hill Community Larder focuses on providing food that is both environmentally sustainable, by supplying food otherwise destined for landfill, and economically sustainable.

Anne Kenyon, one of the co-ordinator's at the larder said they had seen a dramatic increase in users at the beginning of the pandemic, and now consistently rises week on week.

Nationwide, the use of food banks rose by a third throughout the pandemic, delivering 33 per cent more food parcels between April 2020 and March 2021 than the whole of 2019.