Demand for Ledbury Food Bank has rocketed during the Covid crisis, and organisers warn there are still serious challenges requiring solutions, for the year ahead.

Food Bank spokesman, Martin Ham, said the group was feeding 3500 people in 2020 so far; but he expects the total to climb to 4000 as the second lockdown bites.

Mr Ham said: "For all of us at Ledbury Food Bank, 2020 has been a momentous year. What have we achieved? In 2018 we provided food for about 2000 people, but for the last 12 months this figure has risen to about 3000. Currently we are now expecting the total for this year to be nearly 4000, as at the moment we are feeding about 3500, and sadly, things are getting worse.

"Judging from those figures we have achieved quite a lot. All we have achieved has been the result of contributions, the time and the money that local people and organisations have given so generously. It is a sad fact that we need to provide a food bank service, but we cannot see any possibility of its not being needed for the foreseeable future."

In October 2019, the group opened a sub-branch in Bosbury. It got off to a slow start, but by the start of this month it was providing food for between 40 and 60 people per month.

Mr Ham said the impact of the first lockdown had been considerable.

He said: "By early March, the bombshell hit hard! Suddenly the majority of the volunteers were told, you’re over 70 and vulnerable and so stay at home and do not come anywhere near the food bank. The army of volunteers had shrunk to a mere platoon, and the requirements of social-distancing meant that those who were still on duty had not only to ensure that those in need were fed, but had to reorganise the whole operation to ensure the safety of both helpers and clients. Supermarket shelves started to empty and demand for food rocketed. With early morning starts, long hours, and some heavy physical work the remaining volunteers kept the flow of food into St Katherine’s and out to those in need.

Finance was an issue. The ‘times of plenty’ for the food bank, when food gifts are at their highest, are harvest festival, Christmas, and Easter, and the bombshell hit at none of these. To cater for demand, the food bill rose to over £800 per week. The generosity of local people and grants from government and public authorities came to the rescue, and local firms such as The Helping Hand and Sequani dug deep into their pockets and helped us provide for all our needs. In 2019 we set up a Paypal donation point on our website and hosts of local people gave what they could afford through this facility."

But Mr Ham warned: "There are loads of issues ahead of us. We now know that our premises are totally unsuitable for use in a pandemic and beyond. They are too small for the requirements of social distancing and inaccessible to the disabled. There is nowhere to have a confidential chat with clients, and now, during harvest festival some food is being stored in volunteers’ garages Also, we need to look at problems such as ‘fuel poverty’, and we want to provide more help to clients with their specific problems so that they can overcome their need to visit a food bank.

"Next year will be a busy year, and an expensive one, if we manage to upgrade our service in the ways we plan.