Due to the rising food prices, the situation at aid organizations is getting worse. Jörg Sartor heads the food bank in Essen. He says: “In the meantime, people who have a permanent job also come to us.”
FOCUS online: Mr. Sartor, how dramatic is the situation at the food banks in terms of skyrocketing food prices?
Jörg Sartor: Dramatic, I don’t like that word very much. Because anyone who comes to us is in very bad shape. Life is dramatic for these people anyway. It should also be emphasized here that the food supply is actually a matter for the state.
The boards are only there to supplement this help. In the meantime, however, the number of people in need of help has increased significantly. In addition to Ukrainian refugees, more and more low-wage workers are reporting, who are also unable to make ends meet because of the high food prices.
Can you quantify the growth?
Sartor: The inquiries have certainly increased to more than 20 percent. The Ukraine war and the increasing number of new welfare cases meant that the Essener Tafel had to impose a freeze on admissions.
More than 1600 authorization cards for families in need cannot be made. That means: The Essener Tafel supplies about 5,500 people, for logistical reasons our capacities are not sufficient for more. We need bigger premises to accommodate more people.
How is the Ukraine war noticeable?
Sartor: Especially in the first phase of the Russian attack on Ukraine, there was an enormous crowd. Normally on Wednesdays up to 40 men and women ask us to be included in the Tafel list, in June a good 80 Ukrainians contacted us weekly.
On July 1st, we gave 124 places out of 128 to refugees from Ukraine. The table was filled to the brim. We are currently unable to accept any more migrants from the war zone.
Is it a similar ban on foreigners as it was in March 2018, which made headlines nationwide?
Sartor: Absolutely not, but we can’t take in any more people in need at the moment – regardless of their origin.
What needs to change?
Sartor: If we had better premises, we could serve a third more poor people. But even then it wouldn’t be enough. In the meantime, people are coming to us who have a permanent job and still can’t make ends meet.
We are now seeing that single earners apply for groceries for their families. It turns out that they have less money at their disposal than state beneficiaries. Example kindergarten contributions.
Low earners have to pay the rates themselves, but Hartz IV recipients do not. Rent, health insurance, school meals, public transport tickets – the state pays or subsidizes all of these things for the unemployed, but not for those who earn slightly more than the minimum wage.
Of course, there are also those employees who could apply to the office for an increase in their salary. But many don’t do that.
Sartor: Certainly the shame of being in need of help plays a role. Many are simply too proud, but for some it is too difficult to go to the social authorities. Try to get an appointment at the job center.
Some food banks are complaining about a drop in donations, how do you see that?
Sartor: There are two types of donations. On the one hand the financial donations, on the other hand the food. In the case of the latter, it has become less. The reason is simple.
We work 90 percent with fresh produce. fruit, vegetables, bread. And when these things become more expensive, the retailer buys less. That’s why there is less left for us.
If the cucumber currently costs 1.50 euros, we get less. If a cucumber costs just 30 cents in summer, we get a lot more of the goods that don’t go over the sales counter.
Normally donations only decrease in the cold months at the beginning of the year. In 2022, however, we will have to record a massive decline throughout the year.
And what about the cash donations?
Sartor: Financially, exactly the opposite is happening. In the face of inflation, high food and energy prices and the war in Ukraine, many donors are even more solidarizing with the poor of society.
We now have 30 patrons who donated the 300 euros of the energy subsidy to us, saying that we don’t need anything from the state watering can, the money should be distributed fairly to those in need.
Those are positive signals, aren’t they?
Sartor: Partly, partly. In the overall context, the question arises, what is the board for? We are not here to care for those the state has forgotten.
For example, pensioners who are slightly above the basic security rate and have to pay for everything themselves, even though they cannot pay the exploding energy prices. As a food bank, we also have to spend 1,500 euros more per month on electricity, fuel and gas.
The state of North Rhine-Westphalia now wants to support the Tafel with four million euros, is this sum enough to alleviate the need?
Sartor: Basically, I’m against government support.
Sartor: On the one hand, it’s about independence from state influences. Secondly, the politicians make themselves look ridiculous. Because it is actually their job to provide the needy people with sufficient food. It is much better to pass the problem on to the blackboards and soothe your guilty conscience with a manageable cash injection.
what would be better
Sartor: In this exceptional situation, the public sector should directly subsidize basic foodstuffs for poor people in our country, at least temporarily. As I said: The panels are only there to soften very special hardships.
High energy costs, inflation: Many Germans are currently suffering from money worries. One topic that has not been discussed much so far are so-called index leases.
They allow the landlord to increase the basic rent each year as much as the consumer price index has risen. Currently, an increase of 10.4 percent would be possible.
We want to devote ourselves to the topic of index rental contracts and draw on the experiences of our readers. Do you have an index lease? If so, are you concerned about potential increases? Or did it already exist? How did you react?
Write us your story to firstname.lastname@example.org, preferably with your full name, place of residence and a telephone number for queries. We will publish some of the submissions.