FOOD larders in Tunbridge Wells have been hit hard as they struggle to get basic supplies of vegetables due to shortages that have left supermarkets shelves empty.
There are six food larders across the town, which support hundreds of people each week by providing surplus food from supermarkets in return for a small donation of £2-£3. Unlike food banks, you do not need a referral to attend a food larder.
However, due to extreme weather in Spain and Europe, a reduced supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers has left UK supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco, Morrisons and Aldi having to limit their items.
The shortages in the shops have affected residents across the Borough, particularly those using food larders, which have seen a significant reduction in donated items.
Jan Anderson, leader of St Matt’s Community Larder, explained how the larder is struggling to get fresh produce and how it is now ‘rationing’ its packages.
She told the Times: “It’s been really difficult. Over the past few weeks, we have definitely seen a lack of salad stuff. I couldn’t buy broccoli, cauliflower, or any vegetables for the larder, even potatoes are quite short.
“Just a month ago we could give away a handful of carrots and however many potatoes people wanted, but now we’re having to tell a family of four they can only have four carrots and three potatoes and if they’re on their own it’s one potato and two carrots.”
Food larders are having to pay more for food to subsidise what they don’t get from supermarkets, with St Matt’s paying 15 times the amount they did a couple months ago.
“Without these donations and the supermarket surplus, we wouldn’t be able to keep going, we cannot sustain paying hundreds of pounds a week for food especially with the increase in demand.”
“We used to spend around £20 a week on extra supplies [to top up the supermarket surplus], now we’re spending £250-£300 a week buying in stuff because the surplus from supermarkets has diminished so much,” she said.
St Matt’s Community Larder opened in November 2020 in response to the Covid-19 lockdowns to support those who were struggling on furlough.
Jan explained how it began. “We thought this was going to be a lockdown project to help people on furlough, where we saw maybe 50-60 people a week, but now we are seeing over 90 people and hit 107 just a few weeks ago.
“We are increasingly seeing working people who you would think are quite affluent but are now struggling to pay their mortgages. One lady told me she is having to buy food on her credit cards.
“The soaring cost of energy, mortgages and now food has come as a bit of a triple whammy with people now struggling to cope.
“In the coming weeks I think it will be even more difficult and I wonder if the wholesalers who donate to us are going to start having problems and what that means for us.”
John Payne, Team Leader at Tunbridge Wells Baptist Church Community Larder echoed Jan’s concerns as they also struggle to purchase items.
He told the Times: “The food shortages are becoming a real problem for us, particularly over the last two months where we have seen our supply of donations really diminish.
“We received £2,500 from the council’s Community Support Fund and we are using it to buy most of the food in the larder, but we are struggling to even do that because there is nothing in the supermarkets.”