Already an hour before the opening of the food distribution of the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund in Hamburg-Jenfeld, the first people are standing in line on a cold, wet day behind a ribbon. While they wait patiently with their bags or shopping trolleys until a green traffic light allows entry, volunteers set up boxes inside - filled with salad, cheese or bread. In cooperation with the Hamburger Tafel, which has its headquarters next door, those in need can pick up donated food here once a week. Like many of the Tafel in Germany, this issuing office has also imposed a freeze on admission. Because the Ukraine war and strong price increases have triggered an enormous influx.
"The situation of the food banks in Germany is more challenging than ever before in the 30-year history," says the chairman of the umbrella organization of the food banks, Jochen Brühl, in Berlin. "We have more customers - at the same time less food is being donated." People with basic security, single parents, pensioners, refugees, homeless people - according to the information, more than two million people come to the more than 960 food banks in Germany.
Suddenly dependent on it
A new group has emerged in recent months: More and more people from the low-wage sector, who would otherwise have just made ends meet, are suddenly dependent on the support of the food banks, reports Brühl.
This is also noticeable in Hamburg: "There are people who two months ago did not expect that they would ever report to the Tafel," says the managing director of the Hamburger Tafel, Jan-Henrik Hellwege. Many felt ashamed to go to the table. "It is socially taboo to show financial distress."
Partner institutions in the Hanseatic city take over the issue to registered needy people. According to Hellwege, almost all 31 food distribution points have imposed a freeze on admission. At the food distribution of the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund in Jenfeld, about five people call every day who first have to be put off, reports coordinator Daniela Skaza.
Maike Funk has been coming to this issuing office for three years. This step was very difficult for her at first, recalls the early retiree. At the entrance, she shows proof and pays two euros as a small amount for the incidental costs of the campaign. The volunteers try to create a shop-like atmosphere for the needy, whom they call customers. "Butter?" asks an employee when Funk comes by. "Oh yes, baking cookies," says the 60-year-old happily, putting the goods in their bags.
It matters less and less
"The most important thing is to make fresh food available to people so that they can cook properly," explains Tafel Managing Director Hellwege. In the warehouse at the Hamburg headquarters, surplus groceries that retailers and manufacturers have given away are piling up. But there are fewer than in the past.
"For a long time, retailers have been trying to use different strategies to waste less," says Brühl from the umbrella organization of the food banks. "The war has also disrupted logistics chains. That's why there are fewer surpluses."
According to the umbrella organization, the amount of food given to people affected by poverty has therefore had to be reduced in many places. In addition, the panels themselves are affected by the price increases for energy and transport, for example. "The panels are at the limit," says Brühl. The volunteers have had to do a lot since the beginning of the pandemic - you can often feel the helpers exhausted. Brühl emphasizes that he is extremely concerned about the coming months.
Many food banks offer much more than food distribution - such as warm lunches, delivery services or clothing stores. "The work of the Tafel all over Germany deserves the respect and recognition of all of us," says Michaela Engelmeier, Chairwoman of the Board of the Social Association Germany. "Because as sad as it is, in times of record inflation and skyrocketing prices, many can no longer even afford to eat." But the voluntary commitment of the food banks should not be counted on in advance by politicians and authorities as a reliable factor and responsibility should not be handed over as a result.
Brühl criticizes the fact that state benefits are often not targeted and appeals: "Poverty is not a problem for the poor, but a problem for society as a whole - it doesn't seem to have reached everyone."