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As inflation hits, vulnerable Czechs turn to food banks for help

National Food Collection 2021

Prague, Czech Republic – More Czechs were in need of food aid last year, figures from the Czech Federation of Food Banks showed, as Prague social workers continue to hand out more and more food parcels amid skyrocketing inflation and coronavirus recovery.

In 2021, the need for food aid rose by more than 30% in the Czech Republic with more than 200,000 Czechs receiving food assistance, according to the Federation of Food Banks.

Rising food prices hit most vulnerable in Czech Republic

The yearly report came as inflation raised prices across Europe, with January seeing the largest month-to-month increase of consumer prices in the Czech Republic since 1993.

Apart from paying more for energy and fuel, people had to spend more money on food and beverages.

Prices of bread and cereals went up by more than 9%, and prices of oils and fats rose 26%, year-to-year consumer prices data from the Czech Statistical Office showed – putting an additional strain on lower-income families struggling to make ends meet.

Although the biggest swell in the need for food aid came during strict coronavirus lockdowns in the past two years, some food banks continue to register a higher interest in assistance due to rising prices.

Prague food bank, the biggest in the country and the only one that distributes food directly to people, has seen a 15% rise in the need for food aid in the past three months, its director Vera Dousova told Kafkadesk. 

Despite the growth being less dramatic than during the pandemic, Dousova said the situation had not developed as expected. “It isn’t a natural growth. It’s due to increased prices of groceries and energy. Even the people coming here for help are talking about it,” she said. 

“They are telling us that so far they have been able to make ends meet in some way, but since new year it has deteriorated so much that they aren’t capable of living on the edge anymore.”

Dire outlook for future months

Credit: Czech Federation of Food Banks

The Prague food bank currently hands out food parcels to 2,600 individuals every month and serves 260 charity organisations in the capital.

Dousova warned that should the situation escalate any further, the food bank would not be able to help everyone in need.

Inflation has also hit the Czech food bank network, director of the Czech Federation of Food Banks Veronika Lachova said.

“We have already felt the increase in the prices of energy and fuel which was significant last year. This is all reflected in our costs, which we are trying to keep down as much as we can,” Lachova told Kafkadesk.

In 2021, Czech food banks more than doubled their turnover compared to 2020 and donated more than 9,000 tonnes of food, the equivalent of over 425 million Kc (about €16 million).

Lachova added that while the federation expects to increase its turnover again in 2022, it will not be as significant as in the previous two years. 

However Agrarian analyst Petr Havel warned that Czechs must get used to their grocery shopping getting more expensive as food prices are expected to continue growing in this and next year.

Socially disadvantaged groups, such as the elderly and single parents, will be impacted the most as they do not benefit from raised wages. As a result, they might spend around a third of their budget on food, the analyst said (on average, Czechs spend around 15% of their total expenditure on food and non-alcoholic beverages).

“The light at the end of the tunnel is flickering very faintly,” Havel told Kafkadesk, pointing to a string of factors from rising energy, labour and packaging costs or the war in Ukraine fuelling further price hikes.

Donating foodstuff to those in need

While food banks in the Czech Republic collect food and deliver it to their partner organisations, often town halls and charities, they are not directly responsible for handing the parcels to those in need.

Credit: Czech Federation of Food Banks

In Plzen, the fourth biggest Czech city, social worker from the Caritas organisation Vojtech Pezlar said his branch has not yet encountered a more significant growth of requests for food aid because of inflation, but cautioned the situation might change later in the year. 

A similar situation is in the western town of Cheb, where Caritas helps with material and food aid for about 300 people per year.

“It is possible that the number of applicants for social services – and thus also applicants for food packages – will increase in the near future. Not only due to inflation but especially the increase in the price of electricity and gas,” said Caritas’ social worker Jiri Urbanec.

However, in the northern town of Ceska Kamenice in the Ustecky region, the situation has rapidly deteriorated over the last three months.

Stepanka Keckova of the local Caritas branch said she registered a 100% increase in the need for food aid. On average ten people, mostly mothers with children, pick up food and hygienic products every day. The charity also delivers help directly to the elderly.

“To me, the situation of seniors living alone is the most pressing,” Keckova told Kafkadesk.

For anyone looking to help those in need, Urbanec and Lachova encourage people to donate food during the annual National Food Collection in which customers can buy and donate non-perishable foodstuff in supermarkets and online stores. The nearest opportunity to participate will be on April 23 during the Spring Food Collection.

More regular volunteering opportunities are often available with charities directly distributing food aid. For example, Caritas in Ceska Kamenice is currently looking for volunteers to help package and hand out food parcels. The Federation of Food Banks is also looking for financial support, more details are available on its website.

Additionally, all food banks are currently collecting food donations for Ukraine. If you feel like giving a hand, contact their local branch for more details.

By Karolina Bohacova

A freelance journalist from the Czech Republic, Karolina is now based in Liverpool, UK, covering Czech and Polish affairs with a focus on social issues. She previously worked for the Reuters news agency and the international outlet Coda Story. You can follow her on Twitter.

Credit: Czech Federation of Food Banks