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As cost of living rises, Belgian food banks overwhelmed by demand

08:04 15/02/2023

Food banks across Belgium say they are being overwhelmed by an increase in demand from people struggling to make ends meet.

While an estimated 209,450 people received monthly food aid in 2022, that number is increasing as the social safety net is strained by additional challenges, the Belgian Federation of Food Banks (BFFB) reports.

“We are noticing a spectacular increase in the demand for food aid, but what makes the situation especially alarming is that we did not see the total volume of food donations rise at the same rate,” said Jef Mottar, managing director of the BFFB.

“The total volume distributed in 2022 was 23,036 tonnes, which is barely 3% higher than in 2021. This makes it difficult to provide enough aid to all those in need. Food banks are forced to buy more and more food themselves.”

They are now calling on federal and regional governments, along with companies and individuals, to support food banks "more structurally financially".

“In this way, we can continue to help those in need during these very difficult times,” Mottar added.

In 2022, the number of people claiming food aid through the 676 organisations affiliated with the BFFB increased 18.2%, from 177,238 in January to 209,450 in December.

But the volume of food available to distribute was more or less the same as in 2021, resulting in a decrease of the average amount of food distributed from 125.4 kg per capita in 2021 to 109.9kg in 2022.

While declines in donations continued, the 2021 levels of stock were maintained as a result of higher quantities of products purchased with funds from the European Social Fund (ESF+) and with financial donations received.

“It is a trend that the federation has been noting for some time and is quietly reaching very significant proportions,” BFFB said, adding that the European support they had been relying on was also shrinking.

From 2024, European funds for food aid are expected to decrease by about a third.

“This loss of 2,900 tonnes, or almost 12.5% of the total volume distributed in 2022, comes on top of the expected further decline in donations from the food industry and will be strongly felt,” the BFFB warns.

Some of the culprits behind an increase in demand include rising inflation and sky-high energy prices, which have left people with smaller budgets for food.

A study by BFFB in collaboration with a market research agency found that more than half of respondents have only limited savings buffers and find it difficult to make ends meet later in the month.

This means they are finding it difficult to afford basic needs such as food, clothing, heating and healthcare.

Almost all respondents agreed on the cause of this situation: the rising cost of living.

“Based on these figures, one can expect a rising need for food aid, which will further strengthen the social role of food banks,” the BFFB said.

“Food banks have a significant social impact and make the difference between life or survival for many people. The food assistance we provide goes beyond just satisfying hunger. It gives families the chance to look beyond the empty shopping basket and to focus on other important aspects in their lives, such as school, work and health.”

Written by Helen Lyons