One-third of voluntary drivers can no longer deliver hampers long distances for a food bank based in Co Meath due to the rising cost of living.
Meath Food Bank has also seen a fall in donations as more families can no longer afford excess supplies.
The Navan-based service now has to give their own volunteers fuel vouchers to assist them with high fuel costs which have stopped 10 of its 30 drivers from transporting hampers long distances around the county.
“We are really feeling it here, and I’d say it will be heartbreaking come the winter because electricity prices are the main cost worrying the people we deal with,” founder Ashling Lowe said.
“€400 used to get us four trolleys worth of shopping from the supermarket, but now we are lucky if we get two because it’s the staples that have really shot up, like bread and baby food.
“Meath is a big county and we have people in need all over it, but 10 or 12 of my drivers say they can’t do the big journeys any more because they can’t absorb the cost of fuel,” Ms Lowe added.
“Thankfully, lovely local businesses have given us fuel vouchers in recent times, which we could give out to help our drivers. The demand from families is always there but this is the first time we are seeing those who give their time and supplies being hard hit.
“A lot of people used to drop in food, saying ‘oh my kids won’t eat that, so it might be useful to you’ or ‘I bought too much of that, so I thought you might be able to use it’.
“We are seeing none of that now. People are only buying what they absolutely need and are saving a few euro because they are afraid of more increases in the months ahead,” she explained.
“Thankfully, there are events that continue to support us. My uncle Seamus Farnan insisted on holding a tractor run for us just days before he passed away in recent weeks, but without people like that we are closed doors.”
The Meath Food Bank has helped almost 4,000 people over the last six years, including frontline workers and former soldiers who cannot make their pensions stretch to cover bills and food.
“Elderly people who have paid taxes all their lives are going to bed early so they don’t have to turn on heating or lighting, and are wearing extra jumpers to save on a bit of coal. People ring me every day, just to have a cry and look for reassurance,” Ms Lowe said.
“There are many families who only ask for help around the time their rent is due each month – it’s a roof or food and there is no wriggle room for anything else.”