Shock rise in people struggling to feed families

Joan Henson, left and her team of volunteers who help at the St. John's Church Hall food bank in Annesley.
Joan Henson, left and her team of volunteers who help at the St. John's Church Hall food bank in Annesley.

It is a shocking state of affairs that in 21st century Britain, people are struggling to afford to feed their families.

But if the growth in the number of foodbanks is anything to go by, that is very much the case in Ashfield.

Ashfield Voluntary Action (AVA), with the help of an army of volunteers, is currently overseeing the operation of two foodbanks in the district, with another two preparing for launch in the next few weeks.

Ma’s Cupboard runs from St Mary Magdalene church hall in Sutton on Fridays, while on a Thursday there is one at St John’s Baptist Church in Annesley Woodhouse.

The new foodbanks will be based in Kirkby and Stanton Hill on different days.

Said Steve Astbury, foodbank development officer at AVA: “Essentially what we are trying to do is, as things progressively get worse which they appear to be doing, is be able to cover the week so nobody is without a food parcel who is deemed in need.”

Around 100 food parcels are given out every week by the two existing foodbanks, with a total of 3,000 people having received food from the facilities since the first one was set up nearly a year ago.

Those who qualify for food parcels are referred from JobCentres, or other official sources such as the CAB, and a strict register of users is kept to ensure the system is not abused.

But it is not just the ‘jobless’ who are referred, with those finding it difficult to live on low wages also coming through the doors as well as middle class people who have fallen on very hard times.

“There’s no class barrier there in terms of the need for food,” said Steve.

“Volunteers learn to drop their pre-conceptions at the door because if they didn’t, they would not last.”

Steve says that the public can have misconceptions about foodbank users but demand really is expanding in the local area meaning AVA’s job is increasingly difficult.

Volunteer Michael Gent said: “The great challenge is to make sure we can meet demand and that is true of all foodbanks.”

Finding both food and funding to run the service is the never-ending task.

“Donations are a big part but they would never, ever be enough from the public alone to meet the need,” said Steve.

Partnerships with food providers and funding bodies are essential to the sustainability of foodbanks.

Added Michael: “None of this is free. Either we or one of the foodbanks has to fund it. The adage that there’s no such thing as a free lunch is very true.”

Food parcels are made up of ‘ambient’ food items, or those that are kept at room temperature. These include things such as tinned soup and veg, breakfast cereal, pasta, UHT milk, tinned meat and fish and tea and coffee.

Toiletries are also needed - including toothbrushes and toothpaste, sanitary items, toilet rolls and sanitary items.

Ashfield Voluntary Action is currently trying to come to some arrangement by which it will also be able to provide chilled food but this is dependent on transport and storage issues being resolved.

Anybody who wants to donate food to the foodbank can do so at the collection bin at The Idlewells.