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Charity’s food giveaway has jumped by 60%

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Bags of groceries at The Eliza DoLittle Society waiting for needy families (Photograph supplied)

Bermuda is suffering from a slow-moving train wreck of food insecurity.

Churches and community groups involved in preparing hot meals for those who are quietly struggling are on the front line of a continual increase of need like Bermuda has never seen before.

But the more recent rounds of price increases are cutting more deeply into the middle class — creating more people who need help in feeding their families.

The local charity The Eliza DoLittle Society sees more people desperately driven to their door for help with groceries.

The amount required for the charity’s grocery bag giveaway has been driven up by a staggering 60 per cent since 2020.

“Food insecurity is what people are navigating,” executive director Clare Mello said. “It is about having the resources to feed yourself and your family.”

The cost of food alone has been steadily rising in recent years.

Morgan Stanley Research had global food prices up 65 per cent in the two years to 2022 and actually had predicted they would begin to fall in 2023.

But even in the United States, where CNN reports inflation has fallen for seven straight months, they cite Federal Labour Department data showing how grocery inflation picked up in January — up 11.3 per cent from a year earlier.

With far more “middlemen“ to get those groceries to local food shelves, Bermudian shoppers have been forced into some tough choices.

The Eliza DoLittle Society’s 2023 strategic plan states: “[The Eliza DoLittle Society] continues to witness the growing lines of people visiting the pantry weekly, treating the pantry not as an emergency resource, but as a routine.”

Ms Mello said in the last eight months, they have given out more bags of groceries than they did for the whole of 2020.

The Warwick-based organisation gave out an average of 844 bags of groceries per month in 2020. By 2021, that was about 1,103 per month and last year, still higher at 1,322. This year, they were at 1,344 bags per month.

Last year, the long-running charity provided a record of nearly 16,000 bags of groceries. Ms Mello said they are always seeing new faces mixed in with the familiar. Clients range from unemployed and under employed to those who are employed but still can’t make ends meet.

“Looking at our registrations it seems like, since the start of the pandemic, more people have been returned to some employment, but not everyone has returned to full employment,” she said. “It is a broad range of people.”

Last year, the group served 539 seniors, 1,675 adults and 733 minors.

She guessed that seniors are particularly feeling the rising food prices because they are on a fixed income and have to stretch what they have the furthest.

“But we have such a diversity in clients,” Ms Mello said. “Certainly everyone is feeling it.”

Financial donations and community food drives are always welcome at The Eliza DoLittle Society (Photograph supplied)

In a focus group survey they found that clients’ biggest financial concerns were unemployment or partial employment, and the high cost of electricity, food and also daycare for young children.

“There are government daycare centres, but if they are full, what do you do?” Ms Mello said.

“The other big cost items are diapers and formula. That is a challenge for young mothers.”

She has found that people who use The Eliza DoLittle Society often also use other helping services. They may go to a church feeding programme to get a hot meal, get a bag of groceries from The Eliza DoLittle Society, and use a voucher programme to help with utilities.

Ms Mello is now working with several other charities to identify and fill gaps in local services.

“We are working on that to have an idea of what food insecurity looks like in Bermuda,” she said.

She praised Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors, saying that she had met with The Eliza DoLittle Society and other charities regularly.

“Her ministry is well aware of the challenges and is putting some things in place to assist,” Ms Mello said. “She is very accessible.”

Since Covid-19 began they have not been able to hold fundraising events, but they are on solid financial footing.

“We are always actively fundraising,” she said. “Financial donations and organisational food drives are always welcome. Mount St Agnes Academy just blessed us with a massive food drive. Those donated items are great. It gives people a chance to choose additional items.”

Last year, they received a grant from the Bermuda Foundation, which allowed them to outfit a shipping container to provide extra storage, and purchase two new industrial freezers.

“This has allowed us to increase our storage capacity by 40 per cent,” Ms Mello said.

That has made it easier for them to store food donations from local companies, particularly things that are perishable.

Ms Mello started as a volunteer with The Eliza DoLittle Society during the pandemic in August 2020.

“I was on the registration desk doing two days a week,” she said. “It did not take long before it worked its way into my heart.”

She became executive director in February 2021.

• For more on The Eliza DoLittle Society, visit www.theelizadolittlesociety.bm

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Published March 27, 2023 at 7:20 am (Updated March 28, 2023 at 10:17 am)

Charity’s food giveaway has jumped by 60%

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