‘Everything has become so expensive’

The Islamic Food Bank in Rotterdam sounds the alarm. Like other food banks and organizations, it sees that many people who were able to cope with it until recently have gotten into trouble. Their stories are accompanied by a lot of stress and shame. “I told my kids not to talk about it at school.”

In two months, Rahma Hulsman, who started the Islamic Food Bank twelve years ago, saw 33 new households. More than 400 households in this region alone are now dependent on her help, a quarter of whom are non-Muslims. The rise in food and energy prices is a big culprit, says Hulsman.

José Tijssen is a board member of Food Banks Netherlands, to which 172 food banks are affiliated. She says: ‘In some municipalities there is an increase in people calling the food bank. No tsunami, but more are coming. We expect a further increase due to increased energy costs. There are still annual contracts at the moment. As soon as they expire and the new amount is known, this can be catastrophic for people who just managed to make it and were already on the edge. They’re falling through now. ‘

In addition to five distribution points in Rotterdam, Islamic Food Bank also has branches in the suburbs of Capelle aan den IJssel and Krimpen aan den IJssel. The largest emission points are in Rotterdam-West and Rotterdam-South. These points are often located in a community center and in a church in Rotterdam-Overschie. If you want to use the Salaam Foundation’s food bank, you must show the account statements for the last three months. If, after deducting fixed costs, 180 euros or less remain, you will receive help.

‘The 180 euros are for one person, plus 50 euros extra per person. other relative. And I can assure you that most people who come here are below that amount, “says Hulsman.

For some time, customers of Islamic Food Bank in southern Rotterdam have been able to pick up items from the display themselves. “We buy a lot of things ourselves these days, which is a huge cost item. Fortunately, we also receive donations in kind, for example through Charity, an organization that fights waste. These are, for example, meat substitutes. Oers, a company that focuses on exporting vegetables, also regularly donates something to us. That’s very welcome. ‘

At the distribution points in Rotterdam-West and in the South, between 110 and 150 households are served. Although Hulsman gets a lot of appreciation for what she does, she thinks it is necessary that it is necessary.

Children in poverty

Parents who knock on the door of the food bank often cannot afford to buy enough diapers for their babies, Hulsman notes. Or they can not buy enough baby milk. Then they add milk powder with more water to save money. Of course, it is not good for the child, but these parents just have no money.

People can rely on a regular food bank for a maximum of three years. Sometimes it works, for example if someone is temporarily out of work. But sometimes this does not work.

‘Debt settlement often takes much longer than three years, and it takes a year and a half before it starts running’, says Hulsman. “So it usually takes quite a long time for people to get out of debt.” She also mentions hopeless situations, such as with people who are chronically ill. ‘Their income will no longer increase. Many families have multiple problems, such as debt and health problems. They also incur additional costs. ‘

For children who remain invisible due to poverty, there is the Stem Zonder Facial Foundation in Rotterdam, founded by Vanessa Umboh. She is currently working from a building in Rotterdam-West.

“I’m definitely noticing an increase in financial problems,” she says. ‘A mother of two children who is in debt relief and has 70 euros a week. It is impossible to make ends meet, especially if diapers also have to be paid for that amount. I hear about babies who only get a clean diaper twice a day out of poverty, which often results in diaper rash. The parents feel very guilty about it, which makes me sad. A mother told me that she was terribly ashamed that she had stolen a pack of diapers for her child out of necessity. Many people have lost their livelihoods. The rise in poverty means you have to deprive yourself even more, or your children. They can find their way to a food bank, but there is shame. ‘ Another concern for Umboh is that rising economic problems are leading to an increase in domestic violence.

‘I hear about babies who only get a clean diaper twice a day out of poverty’

Children living in poverty are at greater risk for health problems due to unhealthy diets. To help these children, there are the Lekker Fit schools in Rotterdam, primary schools where extra emphasis is placed on exercise and healthy nutrition. Only cheese is allowed on bread brought to school. ‘A fantastic goal, but parents are not asked if they can afford it’, answers Hulsman from Islamic Food Bank. ‘If you have four children, it’s eight slices of cheese a day. And a peanut butter or butter chocolate sandwich to take home. ‘

Samira * agrees, who has six children with her husband. She has been using the Islamic Food Bank for a year and a half. As a result of the corona pandemic, the family lost income and went into debt while food prices continued to rise. Because her children go to a Lekker Fit school, they have to bring fruit to school every day.

‘It’s very expensive for us, but I dare not discuss it in school,’ she admits. ‘I also told my children that they should not tell anything about our financial situation at school because I do not want them to be bullied. I’m trying to protect them from that. ‘

Samira is very fond of this food bank, but she does not take a large amount of anything. ‘There must also be something left for someone else,’ she says. ‘When you come here, you sometimes get a little extra. Everything has become so expensive ‘. Samira goes to the food bank because she wants her kids to have hot meals. “They have to have clothes and food. I do not want them to lack anything, ”she says. One of her children is chronically ill due to a heart defect, which also incurs extra costs.

It gets worse

Samira’s brave story is a model for the situation of many people who have to rely on the food bank in these times. ‘Everything is getting really expensive,’ says Rahma Hulsman. “Have a bottle of sunflower oil. I first bought it for 85 cents, but now this bottle costs one euro 45. And there are many more examples. Such as energy bills that increase by forty euros a month, while the difference between rich and poor only increases in The Netherlands. It’s getting worse. “

Hulsman does not know if all Lekker Fit schools are so strict that children are not allowed to eat lunch with other sandwich fillings than cheese on the bread. She would like to find out with her team and possibly with the schools. “These schools are often located in neighborhoods where many people live who do not have money for cheese and fruit. As a parent, you must also have a suitable wallet for such wishes, “she says.

‘I used to buy a bottle of sunflower oil for 85 cents, now it’s 1 euro 45’

What Hulsman thinks is the worst thing is that people who want to use the food bank have to stand in line. ‘I would much rather offer them something. Just drink a cup of coffee, give them attention, but it is not possible. The queue is too long for that ‘.

Hulsman sees the fear of her clientele grow. ‘They are afraid of the settlement of the energy bill and of the new monthly amount. The same goes for the heating. Thick sweaters or jackets are put on to minimize the fire. ‘

* Featured. The real name is known by the editors

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