500,000 people in NRW need help from food banks to get their fill. The number has skyrocketed. There is much to suggest that it will continue to grow in 2023. The volunteers are hoping for significantly more support from the state.

150,000 new people in need, around a fifth less food donations and higher costs for rent and petrol: the 173 food banks in North Rhine-Westphalia reached their limits in the year that was drawing to a close.

“We don’t want to send anyone home, but that’s all we can do,” says Evi Kannemann, acting state chairwoman of the North Rhine-Westphalia food banks.

Many hopes of the NRW-Tafeln are now focused on the special funding for social institutions in the state of a total of 150 million euros promised by Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst (CDU) at a poverty conference last week.

How much of this is intended for the panel is unclear. Talks are planned for January. “There we are again as petitioners,” says Kannemann. The NRW table manager would like to have a fixed item in the household of around 500,000 euros per year.

Mainly due to the numerous refugees because of the Ukraine war, the number of table customers in NRW suddenly increased from around 350,000 to 500,000 in 2022.

In addition, in recent months, many people have slipped into the gray area because of inflation, according to the Tafel boss. According to a survey by the North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Social Affairs, almost 30 food banks in North Rhine-Westphalia reported restrictions on new food bank customers up to and including a freeze on registrations as early as late summer.

Many Tafel also had to reduce their donation amounts. “Up until the summer, customers could theoretically come three times a week and take several bags with them,” says the Vice-Chairman of the Oberhausener Tafel, Friedhelm Bever. “Now there’s only one bag and it’s once a week.”

Dealing with the long lines in front of the door is not easy – psychologically for the helpers, but also very practical. “We open at 1:00 p.m., but people are often here by 10:00 a.m. and hope that it will be easier for them then.”

Bever has switched to handing in authorization slips with a pick-up number one week before the appointment. Own appointments for Ukrainians in need have caused tension with other customers and have therefore been abolished. There are no longer registration dates in Oberhausen every week, but only every 14 days.

The food banks have long since become logistics companies that operate nationwide seven distribution warehouses with cold stores in Siegen, Cologne, Dormagen, Gütersloh, Moers, Dortmund and Coesfeld and sometimes receive large donations in pallets directly from wholesalers in 40-ton trucks – like recently 69 pallets of fresh potatoes from a country store or 178 pallets of hollandaise sauce in a jar with a shelf life until the end of December.

Unloading such large deliveries, distributing them to the locations with delivery trucks and then to the customers is a huge effort, says Kannemann – it starts with the necessary forklifts.

The vehicles are sometimes donated by the manufacturers or at least given away cheaply, but as in the commercial economy there is a lack of drivers with a forklift license. In Coesfeld, the 76-year-old “Leo” drives the forklift.

The state is currently supporting the NRW-Tafeln to cushion the increased energy and food prices with a total of 1.4 million euros. The money is to be used for the first time to purchase a used refrigerated truck for 80,000 euros.

In addition, 1,500 euros per bar remain per month for five months. “That helps us over the winter with the particularly high energy costs, but not in the long term,” says Kannemann.

An 840,000-euro state funding program for the food banks, which began in spring 2020, will expire in February 2023. The Tafel had set up regional logistics centers and a state headquarters in Neuss with two full-time employees who support the work of around 12,000 volunteers in NRW.

“Now we should actually fire the two women because further financing is still uncertain – which we are not doing,” said Kannemann. It is clear to the NRW table manager that many additional people in need will come in the new year.

Evi Kannemann was recently at a conference in Berlin. The taxi driver noticed that she was at the table and was about to tell her his life story, she reports: Married, two children, now the gas prices – not enough income from the taxi so that everyone is always full. He’s not unemployed – could he still come to the Tafel in the future?