An NGO that feeds the needy fears it may not be able to help as many families as it does now if food prices keep going up as expected.
The cost of food packs distributed to the poor by Foodbank Lifeline has already risen by 13% in a year and economists are expecting to see even further increases in 2022.
A basic pack prepared by the Foodbank last October had already “drastically” increased in price by around €2 over the same items in 2020.
“I hope we do not get to the stage where prices will keep rising to the point where we cannot cater for everyone,” Foodbank Lifeline Foundation manager Barbara Caruana said.
Among the non-perishable goods that go into the family packs, distributed weekly from the Foodbank’s hubs, are everyday foods like pasta, rice, tuna, tea bags, milk, cereal and other canned items for three meals a day.
Once the Foodbank Lifeline’s donations dry up by around March, it starts to dig into its funds to purchase items in bulk from importers.
“These increases will impact our operation,” she said. “If people are not managing to buy their groceries, and cannot afford basic foodstuffs, the number of clients we service will never decline.
“Although our job is to provide for them, our dream is to have fewer families in need.”
Noticeable rises in the prices of foodstuffs have been put down to a mixed bag of fattened-up freight costs, the pandemic, Brexit, crop shortages, high demand and even wider profit margins for supermarkets.
Other NGOs providing support to the socially disadvantaged are also feeling the pinch.
The bill for a family’s monthly toiletries shot up by almost 30% a week after Christmas, said the YMCA, which offers support to the homeless.
A set of detergents and toiletries went from €85 to €110 practically overnight, the organisation’s CEO, Anthony Camilleri said by way of example.
As daily living becomes more expensive, the YMCA saw 311 cases of homelessness last year, a threefold rise over the previous two years. These were due primarily to financial problems.
More than 120 people were actually sleeping rough, Camilleri said.
“We had individuals living together for over three years, with no lighting, no boiler, no washing machine, no kitchen or mattresses on the floor,” he said.
The YMCA tapped into its funds to provide adequate furniture and household goods to allow these people to live decently.
With the rise in prices, we are failing our children. They are suffering in silence
Last year, an increasing number of families asked for help to purchase special baby milk in particular, Camilleri said, adding that, in some cases, both parents were employed but still had difficulty catering for their loved ones’ needs.
“With the rise in prices, we are failing our children. They are suffering in silence,” Camilleri said.
Of the people YMCA helped last year, 21 were aged between 18 and 24 and 31 were under 18.
He pointed out that the cost-of-living increase of €1.75 per week was less than the price of a coffee.
The YMCA has cases of individuals on social benefits who are still unable to make it to the end of the month when buying only their daily necessities. They rely on donated food bags and the soup kitchen to survive.
Through its support programmes, the YMCA distributed food items, household goods, clothes and furniture to families in need over the past year.
The Foodbank has also had more calls from elderly people who say they cannot cope.
The Grandparents Malta Foundation can attest to this, saying more and more elderly, willing to attend social events, were asking to pay for them with their next pension.
Founder and president Philip Chircop said they were struggling to make ends meet, “waiting for and already nibbling from their pension of the coming month and starting it with a minus”.
They are living a hand-to-mouth existence, he said, adding it could be the result of having to pay more for basic needs.
Chircop said he has had to tailor his activities for the elderly, mostly widows, by doing away with any fund-raising for the foundation through the setting of fixed prices, instead allowing attendees to only pay for what they chose to eat and drink, if at all.
“We are talking here of not being able to afford €20 at the most for some much-needed enjoyment and entertainment. We have had to minimise costs to help them,” he said.
The events are designed to tackle elderly people’s solitude and abandonment by families and build their self-esteem, other issues the elderly face, coupled with the impact of the pandemic.