Out of stock: Great Yarmouth food bank's uncertain future

Trevor Saunders next to empty shelves.

Empty shelves: Trevor Saunders from Mandalay Wellbeing CIC was able to assist 40 people before running out of food. - Credit: James Weeds

The future of a Great Yarmouth food bank hangs in the balance due to high demand and rising running costs.

Mandalay Wellbeing Community Interest Company (CIC) in Victoria Arcade, which has handed out over 42,000 food parcels in two years, ran out of food on Thursday and had to turn people away.

A basket with 7 bottles of drink.

When our reporter visited the food bank, the only remaining stock was a basket full of soft drinks. - Credit: James Weeds

Trevor Saunders, who manages the CIC, said the future of the food bank service is "looking dire".

Mr Saunders said unless something changes, Mandalay Wellbeing's food bank will be unable to continue beyond March.

"Today was heartbreaking," said Mr Saunders.

"It was the first time we have ever had to turn people away because we just didn't have any food to give."

On Thursday, Mandalay's food bank assisted 40 people, but ran out of food in 10 minutes.

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Once Mr Saunders and his volunteer realised there were more people waiting, he had to approach the queue and tell them there was no food left.

Trevor Saunders by an empty window display.

Trevor Saunders had to turn away people in need on Thursday after his food bank had ran out of stock. - Credit: James Weeds

Mr Saunders said the service - which was initially set up at the start of the pandemic - had not received any funding recently and would be unable to continue without it.

"We're standing in the shop, but we're afraid to put the electric on," Mr Saunders said.

"We're freezing.

"Our rent is due in March and it is over £14,000 for the year.

"All these costs are unattainable and we cannot afford it.

"We'll still support people and try to keep going.

"But the economic impact has annihilated us."

Mr Saunders said he is looking to downsize Mandalay Wellbeing to a smaller premises and may have to stop operating the food bank service.

Mandalay Wellbeing will continue with its other projects such as Football Against Dementia, which saw over 1,000 people attend the Wellesley Recreation Ground for a charity game between Norwich City legends and NHS staff last year.

It will also run projects such as Win or Lose, We'll Shine Your Shoes - a scheme to help out-of-work and homeless people find gainful employment.

Food parcels.

Over 100 people collect food parcels from Mandalay Wellbeing CIC each week. - Credit: James Weeds

Inside the shop on Thursday, a homeless man was picking up the last remaining food and supplies Mandalay Wellbeing had available.

The man, who did not wish to be named, has been homeless for five months and visited Mandalay Wellbeing for a food parcel.

The man said: "I don't know what I will do now.

"I suppose I will go to the Salvation Army or something.

"There's not much you can do.

"I'm going to try to get a job and try to get out of this situation."

The man, who was a first time visitor of Mandalay Wellbeing, said he went to the shop after being referred by a staff member at Northgate Hospital.

Mr Saunders said Mandalay Wellbeing had seen an increase in clients being referred to use their service by members of the Department of Work and Pensions, Great Yarmouth Borough Council and the NHS.

"The referrals have been coming from everywhere," Mr Saunders said.

"Since the end of the last lockdown, we have seen about 120 people at our food bank on any given distribution day.

"Each week, about 20 service users are first-timers referred to us by other services."

Mr Saunders said the foodbank was set up at the start of the pandemic to help the town's most vulnerable people.

The CIC initially received relief funding to continue operations.

However, the company has been unable to receive any more funding since mid-2021.

Mr Saunders said: "For the last 10 months, we've seen this coming.

"It feels as if the funding bodies are basically saying 'you've done your bit now.'

"Our food bank feels like it's run its course.

"I think the support is out there for people in need - well, I hope it is - and I hope other services can ride it out.

"Today really hurt because it wasn't a case of us turning our back on people.

"We just simply couldn't do it."

Mr Saunders was awarded the British Empire Medal in the New Year's Honours list for his services to the community particularly during Covid-19.

Have you been affected by rising living costs? Email james.weeds@archant.co.uk with your story.