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Thursday, 28 May 2015

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Tynedale sets up food bank

A FOOD bank is being set up in Hexham to cope with the growing tide of people struggling to make ends meet in the economic downturn.

Support agencies are reporting increased demand from families across Tynedale unable to put food on the table.

And they fear the imminent cap on benefits pay-outs will make even more fall into the poverty trap.

The decision to launch the West Food Bank, which will operate out of Hexham but cover West Northumberland as a whole, was taken following a Christmas food parcel collection in December.

Demand for the parcels was high. At the same time organisations already providing emergency food supplies – such as Churches Together in Hexham and Prudhoe – were reporting a growing number of people seeking help.

Hexham Youth Initiative has also experienced a significant rise in the number of youngsters going without food all day and turning up at its centre in the evening, hungry.

Jackie McCormick, manager of west Northumberland’s Sure Start children’s centres, chaired a meeting in Hexham on Tuesday for the organisations teaming up to launch the West Food Bank.

“People are surprised that a food bank is needed in an area like this, but there is no doubt that it is,” she said.

“It’s not something that’s new in Tynedale – the churches have been doing it for years now, putting on lunches for the homeless and helping people in crisis.

“But this is an attempt to bring all the different strands together and then expand the service ready for the benefits changes next month, because that is going to hit people hard.

“Most of the population aren’t aware how huge the impact is going to be. But with some people living in very difficult circumstances already, we need to be prepared.”

It wasn’t just people on benefits who were struggling, she added.

People in employment who often hadn’t had a pay rise for four or five years, while living costs rose steadily, were sometimes living a hand-to-mouth existence, she said.

“All things considered, now is the time we need to bring together all the support we are able to offer within our own community,” she said.

Adapt, which is soon to move to new premises on Burn Lane, is providing the office and storage room needed.

The Salvation Army has offered to use of its premises on Market Street for storage, too, and members have volunteered to pack food bags.

Meanwhile Hexham Community Partnership and the Isos social housing agency are among organisations donating man-hours and strategic support.

New volunteers will be recruited and trained to help man the service.

Mrs McCormick said: “A lot of organisations recognise the need for this; there were around 30 people at the first meeting we held last month, representing a wide range of agencies working across west Northumberland.

“That certainly raised the spirits. The fact is that everybody has the same thought and we are all prepared to work together.”

Most of the district’s supermarkets are backing the initiative and collection bins will appear in their premises after Easter.

The food will begin to be distributed to those in need by the beginning of May.

The existing emergency food supply services, run by Churches Together, the Salvation Army and Hexham Youth Initiative, will continue to operate as usual.

Mrs McCormick said moral judgements and politics would have no place in the new food bank. There would be no means-testing or quibbling about who was to blame for individuals’ financial predicaments.

However, the service was not designed to supply food week after week to the same people, but to bridge a gap in a crisis.

Food bags would be packed with enough food per head for three square meals a day for three days.

“If people are hungry, we’re not going to get into the bureaucratic reasons why,” said Mrs McCormick.

“They won’t have to fill in some massive form. But an important part of this is that the West Food Bank will act as a gateway to other services.

“People might come once and just get a food parcel, but if they come again it will be about sign-posting – guiding them to the right agencies who can give them proper help.

“Then it will be a case of finding out what is happening in their lives that they can’t cope with.”