The people behind the KLSB community food pantry say the number of emergency support packages they give out every week has risen sharply since energy prices rose in April.
The food pantry – which recently moved into bigger premises in Stenhousemuir shopping precinct – regularly supports more than 60 households every week.
Members of the pantry can choose the items they want and need, rather than simply being handed a food package.
Sheona McMorran says that they have noticed that more and more people are struggling now since the energy price rises.
“The situation is very grim, to be honest – that’s the only way I can describe it, ” she said.
“The amount of people that have been using the pantry has increased significantly and the amount of emergency referrals we’re having to put out has increased significantly.
“The majority of it is down to fuel hikes although there has been a lot of people had their benefits stopped as well.
“A lot of people basically have nothing – nothing in their cupboard and their reliance on the pantry is growing.
“I’m seeing the numbers growing week by week and a lot of the people are ‘working poor’ – they are on zero hours contract and minimum wages and because of the hikes they are having to choose to heat or eat.
“It’s horrible to watch – in this day and age people shouldn’t be having to choose whether to have the light on or gas on or make a meal for their kids.
“I’ve got pantry users who are worried about whether it’s cheaper to turn their gas oven on or microwave food – that’s how bad the situation is, and that’s just in our area.”
Some people use the pantry to get over a particular difficulty or emergency and don’t return but others use the service long-term.
They can buy a bag of groceries – choosing the items themselves – for £2.50, with some free items on top, such as potatoes or bread, which are donated by local businesses.
As well as tinned food, there are some cold meats and cheeses.
The team of volunteers won’t see anyone struggling and they won’t turn people away if they don’t have the cash.
For Sheona, it’s humbling to be trusted by people who are at their lowest ebb and be able to help them get through it.
But, she says, the number of long-term pantry users is increasing all the time – and there is now a waiting list to join.
“It’s clear that the fuel costs are impacting on people,” she said.
“I’d say it’s getting worse than it was after the pandemic, when a lot of people were furloughed but our levels are rising higher now than they were at the end of the pandemic.
“Before, people were managing to balance the books but it was a very fine balance and this has tipped them over the edge.
“We’ve got pantry users whose gas and electricity have been cut off. How are you meant to cook if you have no gas or electricity?
“It’s difficult to watch – all we can do is be here to support in a non-judgemental and dignified manner anyone who comes through the door.”
Dignity is the key word for Sheona and the volunteers who make sure that people have a choice about what they take and are treated with respect.
“It takes a lot to ask for an emergency food pack or to walk through these doors,” she said.
The referrals can come from Falkirk Council social work, NHS Forth Valley, Police Scotland or local schools and other charities.
They also work closely with Larbert Rotary Club to provide a clothing bank for people who are struggling.
If anyone needs help, they should go through Falkirk Council’s Support for People helpline, where staff will make sure they get a benefits check to make sure they are getting everything they are entitled to.
Sheona stresses that the pantry is not funded to buy food and relies on donations from the community.
“The Round Table have been very kind and we have a lot of support from local businesses with donations and people walk in off the street to ask us what we need.
“The Community is generous – we are supported by Scouts, Beavers and local schools.”
The group has grown since it was first set up as a litter-picking initiative – hence its name Keep Larbert and Stenhousemuir Beautiful – started by Sheona and husband John and supported by local councillors Gary Bouse and Laura Murtagh.
And now, other exciting projects in the pipeline that they hope will involve lots of people from the community and make a real difference.
Coming in the next few weeks, a new initiative at 17 King Street will see a new kitchen project, which will give pupils from Larbert High School work experience while welcoming various groups to ease isolation.
Sheona also plans to run cookery classes on a budget – although she was angered at the suggestion by MP Lee Anderson that people who knew how to cook and budget could make a meal for 30p.
Sheona, who is non-political, disagrees. “That isn’t the root of the problem here – the root of the problem is that people simply don’t have enough money to buy food.”
* KLSB Food Pantry, (beside Farmfoods in Stenhousemuir) is open on a Friday, Saturday and Monday from 11 am to 1 pm when they will accept donations. Donations can also be dropped off at the Londis store on Main Street, Stenhousemuir.