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Food bank demand rising in Germany amid record-high inflation

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By Katherine Berjikian  & AFP
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A partially empty shelf storing donated food in a storage room at a food bank in Berlin, Germany, Friday, March 13, 2020.
A partially empty shelf storing donated food in a storage room at a food bank in Berlin, Germany, Friday, March 13, 2020.   -   Copyright  Markus Schreiber/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

As Germany grapples with the highest inflation for more than 30 years, demand for food banks is growing. 

With their budgets squeezed by the rising prices, Germans are turning for help to buy basic necessities they can no longer afford at supermarkets. 

"Sometimes when I get home after going to the supermarket, I almost start crying, because I can't buy anything anymore," said Gabriele Washah, 65, waiting in a queue for a food bank in Bernau, near Berlin, where you can fill your shopping cart for around €30.

"Bread, as I'm on my own and it costs more than €2, it's not possible,” she added. “And butter... and not even sausage, which used to cost 99 cents and now sometimes costs more than €2."

Worsened by the war in Ukraine, inflation reached 7.9% year-on-year in Germany in May, its highest level since the country's reunification in 1990.

Increasing energy prices as a result of Russia's war in Ukraine and supply chain interruptions linked to COVID-19 are driving the rise, according to Destatis, Germany's statistics agency.

Food banks hit by inflation, too

But even the food banks are now struggling to keep prices down. Tafel is a volunteer-run one and relies on donations from supermarkets, but they still charge for their products to cover running costs. With energy costs surging amid the war in Ukraine, it's having to be passed on to customers.

“Sometimes we raise the prices by 20 or 50 cents because we need money to refuel,” said Malina Jankow, manager of the Bernau food bank.

"At the national level, the demand [for food banks] has clearly increased since the beginning of the year," said Johanna Matuzak, communication officer at Tafel.

The situation is very different depending on the city but "in some food banks, the demand has doubled", she added, citing, in particular, the Berlin area.

Is the government doing enough to help?

"It's not just one product," said 69-year-old retiree Peter Behme. 

"All prices are rising. I don't know where the state aid lands," he added, unconvinced by the measures taken to relieve households. 

Germany has notably lowered taxes on fuel, reduced the price of public transport for three months, and promised an exceptional payment of €300 to taxable employees – from which retirees are excluded.

Food banks and welfare organisations are calling for more help.

Norbert Weich, director of the food bank in Bernau, is hopeful a new law will be introduced regulating food thrown away by supermarkets.

"We have been asking the government for a long time for a law to force supermarkets to give away their unsold goods, like in France. Nothing has happened yet,” he said.