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Worcester food bank brings hope in bleak midwinter
FROM the moment I stepped inside Worcester’s Food Bank in Carden Court, it was clear that the charity had been inundated with people needing food.
Going from seeing one person during its opening day in June to more than 60 a day recently and more than 70 a day in the run-up to Christmas, there was the constant sound of footsteps on the stairs leading to the reception area.
Sat waiting when I arrived was a young man drinking a cup of tea while a new mum chatted away as her baby was being cooed over by one of food bank’s vital volunteers.
Set up by Ann-Marie Ison after speaking with the Trussell Trust at a Christian conference, people who are nominated by agencies are given three vouchers.
Each voucher entitles the holder to three days’ worth of food. The total of nine days’ worth of food should be enough time for the benefits system to kick in.
The young man waiting for his first food parcel was 34-year-old Barry Foster.
Originally from Kent, he is turning his life around after using recreational drugs at the age of 15 before moving on to heroin from which he is now clean.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle. You get one thing straightened out and another thing happens and it’s all worse.”
Barry didn’t think people were aware how many in the UK could not afford to eat and that the issue was shoved under the carpet. Things got so desperate for Barry he began taking food from bins behind supermarkets.
“There is nothing wrong with the food they are throwing away but because it is enclosed you are breaking into the property. It was done out of desperation.”
The knock-on effect has meant it has been difficult for Barry to find a job.
“I have got a criminal record but they don’t want to know why you stole they just see you as a thief.”
However, Ann-Marie said the food bank did not just see people facing poverty but also following a death in the family or redundancy.
Being led through to the storerooms, it became clear how generous people had been. Every brand of rice pudding, baked beans and pasta sauce can be found and my task was to sort them out into ‘best before’ dates.
I was working alongside volunteer Ruth Reeves, who is one of a growing army of people giving up their free time to sort through the mountain of food.
“I was going to help out one day a week but because people have been so generous with donating things over Christmas, and the number of people coming in, I have been in every day,” Ruth said.
Is Ann-Marie worried that donations may drop off during the inevitable tightening of purse strings in the New Year? “
I think now people have heard about us they are used to buying an extra item during their shop and bringing it over to us.”
Later, I help to put together a food parcel for a couple with a child with each parcel carefully weighed before they leave.
When putting them together, it is hard not to imagine what the people will think when they open the bag – would they like the flavour jam you have chosen? Will they be happy with the mixture of tinned veg?
Speaking to Ann-Marie, it is clear most of the people they help have bigger things to worry about than the brand of their cereal.
“You hear the stories and your heart breaks. We had one mother who had ate nothing but crackers for three days so she could afford to feed her children.”
While most have been very supportive of the scheme there has been a few who claim that people will abuse the system or are putting drink and cigarettes ahead of feeding themselves.
But Ann-Marie remains positive that these people would be in the minority.
“We’re not going to be able to stop them spending money how they want to but we have to hope we can have some kind of impact.”
And already that impact is being seen with a number of people who have been helped with a food parcel, now volunteering at the food bank.
“I’m just glad that nearly 1,000 people have been helped by it who wouldn’t have had anything if the food bank wasn’t here.”
For more information on Worcester Food Bank including a shopping list log on to worcester.foodbank. org.uk or call 01905 780400 or 07928 299887.
Donations can be dropped off at the food bank at Unit 2 Carden Court, Carden Close Monday, Wednesday and Friday 11am to 2pm.