“Without them I wouldn’t be alive,” said Alexandra Kaci, sitting in a side room off a food bank in a side road in Bermondsey.
Alexandra was referring to the three food banks she goes to regularly – Love North Southwark on the Slippers Place Estate, where she was speaking from, City Hope Church on Drummond Road and the Borough Food Co-operative on Borough High Street.
Alexandra, who is originally from Cork in Ireland and moved to Bermondsey in 2001 after a spell in Essex, started going to food banks after losing her carer job in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic. She said she felt “ashamed” of going the first time.
“The first time I went, I was cringing and I felt horrible. I felt like oh my god, and I had to question myself. When I got myself together I said I could see myself going again.
“I had to get my logical thinking in place because if I don’t go what am I going to do? I’m not working, there’s no one showering me with money. I’m not on state benefits.”
Alexandra lives with her partner and seventeen-year-old son on Ann Moss Way. “My fella’s on a good wage and yet we’re still struggling,” she said.
Kathy Heather, who runs Love North Southwark, said this week that numbers had gone up steeply in recent months, which is similar to what other local food bank managers have said. Inflation, food prices and energy bills have all gone up markedly, with worse likely to come later this year.
Alexandra said: “I don’t know how things are going to progress, but my God, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
She said that although people might think they’re safe now, she was worried for what the next year could bring.
“You might not get enough in your wages, you could be let go, or it could be a choice between paying your rent and eating. There’s no safety net. When you’re f*cked in the UK, you’re f*cked. No one don’t give a sh*t about you, I don’t care if you’re married, boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever.
“At the end of the day, you’re on you’re own – unless you’ve got a strong network, or people like Kathy, who are very rare.
“But a lot of people in Bermondsey, they don’t have that luxury of going to their parents, or having a big network. They don’t have anything to fall back on. I’m just lucky Kathy’s here, otherwise I’d be f*cked. I probably wouldn’t even be alive now.
“If she hasn’t got a heart of gold, I don’t know who has.”
Alexandra said the Bermondsey she knew when she first arrived was “gone”, and the sense of social isolation was hard. “I only know about four or five people here now, everyone else has left, gone to Kent or wherever.
“I’ve travelled the world… I’ve been to Algeria. I’ll tell you one thing – they fare better than you and me. At least the people there if you’re starving they’ll give you a loaf of bread. Here they don’t give a sh*t. They’d walk past you and ignore you and tell you you’re scum.”
Alexandra, who is from the Irish traveller community, said she has applied for a job on a farm in Hertfordshire and was looking forward to getting out of London. “I’m buggering off up there because I can’t sustain it in London,” she said.
The Love North Southwark food pantry is at 4-5 Gataker House, Slippers Place, SE16 2EN. For £5 you can get twelve items, including fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy, meat, cereals, coffee, tea, tins, and household items.