Foodbanks expect demand to surge as Christmas draws near

Merseyside foodbanks are launching their Christmas appeals to make sure no one goes hungry in the festive season.

Thousands of local families and people have turned to their local foodbanks for help as a last resort, with one food bank manager praising the courage of families in asking for support.

In many cases, people look for help after their benefits were delayed – often for weeks at a time – while others used the services as they were simply not earning enough to make ends meet.

Walton MP and Merseyside Mayor candidate Steve Rotheram has already said the high usage of foodbanks in the city was “ridiculous” last week, and has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Damien Green to discuss the issue.

Here are what some of Merseyside’s foodbanks are doing this winter and how you can help them.

“Often people are very embarrassed or ashamed when they come to the foodbank”

The Bridge Chapel Centre based in Garston supports those in need in South Liverpool. The centre fed 3,890 people in crisis last year, offering food parcels of up to three days’ worth of items.

Coordinator at the foodbank, Nicola Hawkes, appealed for residents to donate festive types of food to the branches throughout Merseyside in the run-up to Christmas.

Mrs Hawkes said: “Often people are very embarrassed or ashamed when they come to the foodbank. They see it as a failure on their part, when often it’s a failure on the part of the system.

“Every story is unique. We see a quite a few referrals from the South Liverpool domestic abuse services. In the winter months we see people who have to choose between paying for their heating or eating.

“We’ve had grandparents come in that have taken over custody of their grandchildren and they’re waiting for the benefits to be transferred to them, and they’re really struggling because it’s taking an age for the welfare to go through. They’re trying to provide a stable and happy home for those kids and the money is just not there to help them through.”

Mrs Hawkes added that Bridge Chapel has had families in the past where things like the simple cost of a funeral completely tips them over the edge, and noted that there are a huge number of reasons why people are struggling.

Mrs Hawkes explained the foods needed by foodbanks during the winter months: “Every foodbank runs low on long-life milk and long-life juice. At this time of year we have more sponge puddings, or jam puddings which, when they’re tinned, last until 2018 and 2019, and are great for us to use.

“Things like hot dogs, or corned beef, or tins of stewing steak which cost a bit more but they’re a much better quality meat are great for us.

The Address for the centre Heath Road, Liverpool L19 4XR, or you can call on 07760 718640.

‘Liverpool as a city is doing a really good job in organising support for people’

The Liverpool North branch, part of the Trussel Trust network and based in West Derby, has given out more than 2,600 emergency packages in the last six months.

Kevin Peacock, Chief Executive of St. Andrew’s Community Network at Liverpool North foodbank, says over half of users accessing his foodbank have had issues with their benefits.

Mr Peacock added that locals are forced to use the foodbank due to low-paid work with fluctuating hours.

He explained: “Some people have an eight-hour or a 15-hour contract, but that’s all they will work that week, whereas they might have worked 30 hours the week before.”

But, Mr Peacock praised the council for its work in stopping people going hungry.

He said: “Liverpool as a city is doing a really good job in organising support for people who are desperate for food.

“I think the city council is getting better and leading the approach to coordinate this support”.

The charity can be reached at 0151 226 3406.  People with a voucher can receive free food for up to three days worth of meals. The centre is at St Andrew’s Community Network, Roscoe Primary School, Ballantyne Road, West Derby, L19 3AL.

‘This is not a lifestyle people choose’

Manager of the Wirral Foodbank Richard Roberts said as well as normal food parcels, the centre is relaunching its Chocolates For Children project.

More than 3000 Wirral children used the service in 2016, and the foodbank are appealing for locals to donate anything from chocolate bars & sweets to full selection boxes to local children in need.

He said: “One of our volunteers came up with the idea- it’s nice at Christmas time to have a treat given out by our foodbanks.

“If the school is looking to help out the area then this is one of the methods so they can do that”.

Richard added: “It takes a lot of guts for someone to go to the organisations that issue the food vouchers to actually say ‘I can’t feed my family’.

“The key thing is that this is not a lifestyle that these people choose. Our aim is to help people move up into the area where they don’t need foodbanks.”

The manager of the project said benefit delays mean residents have struggled to make ends meet, and is one of the reasons why there has been an almost 20% increase of service users this year.

Mr Roberts said: “We had a gentleman in last week saying his first benefit payment which included housing benefit is due on December 14, a month away. What can he do until then?”

Users of the foodbank have praised the service and highlighted the importance of donating to local centres in times of high demand.

One user said: “I used to own my business, then the recession came along, causing work to dwindle, which ultimately ended my business. I tried to scrape a living from self employment, but ended up breaking up with my partner and Universal Credit did not leave me enough money to survive.  The foodbank has kept me fed and stopped me from becoming depressed”.

Richard said the public had donated seven tonnes of food in four weeks to the foodbank during their harvest appeal earlier this year, and their help will be vital over Christmas and the New Year.

Those who wish to donate can do so by calling  at 0151 638 7090. The address is Unit 14, Wirral Business Centre, Dock Road, Birkenhead CH41 1JW.

Debbie Shelley, centre manager of at the St. Leonard’s Community Centre in Bootle, said 12,000 people accessed their foodbank last year, with under 3000 vouchers issued to locals since April.

Mrs Shelley noted that while locals are entering the foodbank at a steady rate, those on low income are beginning to use the service more often.

She said: “At Christmas time we welcome any types of Christmas items and games, we give out festive bags at Christmas time to give everyone something to play with, so Christmas gifts are needed.”

Mrs Shelley added that foods including pasta, soup, and stuffing are also sought after by the foodbanks during this time.

Get in touch with the centre by calling 0151 9331300. The location is 60 Peel Road, Bootle, Merseyside, L20 4RW.

This article was written for the Liverpool ECHO.

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