Never before have so many turned to the food bank. It is no longer only the very poorest, but also the middle class who come to join. BRUZZ took to the pick-up point in Schaerbeek to interview these new visitors. “I feel like I’m taking something from people who need it more.”
Last year in Belgium, an average of 177,238 people in need appealed to the food banks every month. A record number that is likely to continue for the rest of 2022 due to high cost of living and energy prices. The situation in Brussels has gone from bad to worse in recent months. The Sint-Vincensiusvereniging, a non-profit organization that distributes packed lunches, made a new report this week, which BRUZZ could look at.
About 34,000 packed lunches were distributed at the beginning of this year, 15 percent more than in the corona period. “What is striking is that new profiles have emerged at our collection points since the end of last year,” says Frederick De Gryse, general manager of the Sint-Vincensius Association. “In addition to Ukrainians, there have been many freelancers, single mothers, people from the cultural sector and many other middle-class people.”
BRUZZ went to the Sint-Vincensius Association’s largest food depot in Schaerbeek to listen to the story of these new visitors.
Karel, 54 years old
Karel is a single man of 54. He worked abroad a long time ago, where he made a living. However, he decided to return to the capital. Karel is an accountant and earns around 2,700 euros net per month. With rising living costs and sky-high energy prices, he has no choice but to join the food bank.
“I have recently been counting on what my pension will be. That amount turned out not to be enough to pay rent. So I decided to buy an apartment in Schaerbeek with a 15-year loan, ”says Karel BRUZZ† “Repaying that loan is not easy financially, but it is the energy prices that make it difficult to stay afloat.” He pays a monthly mortgage of 1,400 euros. His new energy bill is no less than 385 euros.
Karel had to undergo surgery last year, which made him incapacitated for a while. “After my surgery, I was told that my guaranteed salary would be refunded at 60 percent, which in turn was a hard blow to my wallet.” To keep costs down, Karel sold his car and barely heats up his apartment.
As a worker, Karel is ashamed that he has to get a packed lunch. He does not want to take the place of the poorest of the poor. “In months when I can afford it, I do not go to the food bank, some need it more. My worst nightmare is that someone would recognize me in the line I’m ashamed of. “According to Karel, the stigma surrounding poverty is very great, which means he does not talk about it with anyone.
Marie, single mother
Marie is a single mother of 52 with two dependent children. She works as a secretary for a local business and earns a net income of € 2,100 a month. Still, by the middle of the month, Marie no longer has money in her pocket. Now that her bill has turned dark red, she has no choice but to pick up her food at the food bank.
“I live in public housing, but because I have a fixed income, I have to pay a lot more than other residents,” says Marie. She pays a monthly rent of around 1,000 euros, on top of that she has to pay off her car on credit, which costs 100 euros a month. “And the icing on the cake, rising energy prices and the cost of living. It was nailed in my coffin. Since then, I have lived a life without luxury: I eat very cheaply, I do not go to the hairdresser and do not buy new clothes, “says Marie BRUZZ†
Her ex-partner left her several years ago and does not pay alimony. In fact, Marie still has costs to spare. A few years ago, her husband hit a pedestrian in his car, which dragged him to court. Marie still pays the legal fees.
She also has some shame. ‘I fear I will be seen on that line. I am a working woman, have an income, have all the paperwork and yet I have to go to the food bank. I feel like I take something from people who need it more, ”says Marie.
Anton is a retired man of 67, with a monthly income of 1,600 euros a month. He worked all his life in a supermarket, where he had a net income of about 2,000 euros. Energy prices weigh on Anton, which is why he has been on his way to the Sint-Vincensius Association’s collection point for several months.
“Many years ago, I took out a bank loan for my then-partner. I had money in my savings account at the time, he did not have it. I have been very generous to that person and bought him everything he wanted. He then had a child with a woman, and decided to live with her and the child. Now I am stuck with the baked pears, “says Anton.
Every month he pays 800 euros back to the bank plus a rent of 400 euros. Yet, like many other middle-class people, it is the rising cost of living that makes Anton go to the food bank every other week. “Often, however, I get too much for myself, and I give my profits to the Ukrainians, who need it more than I do.”
“The number of middle-class people is likely to increase in the near future,” says Degryse. In the collection center in Schaerbeek, 200 more packages were distributed in May alone than in April (from 800 to 1,000). “Every month more and more people are knocking on our door, it’s hard for us to keep up,” said Cédric Droyers, president of the center in Schaerbeek.
In contrast to the growing need for food aid, the number of donations of profits from the food industry fell by 11 percent compared to 2020. ”Grocery stores donate much less than before. Companies are buying more and more products as needed and fewer in stock, “said Droyers. He estimates the drop in donations to 30 percent, but there are no official figures for that.
»In addition, commercial players such as Too Good To Go (an anti-waste app, ed.) Are launching a screwdriver. Supermarkets would rather sell their profits than donate it to the food bank. ” Droyers is hoping for more donations to the food bank to meet the growing demand for packed lunches.
The witnesses chose to remain anonymous. Their names are known to the editors.