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More than 200 fed by Gravesend food bank

PUBLISHED: 12:45 24 January 2013 | UPDATED: 16:21 24 January 2013

Food in boxes

Food in boxes

Archant

Demand for emergency food is growing around the country, and a Gravesend food bank is anticipating the worst.

More than 200 people have been fed from emergency food parcels supplied by a food bank in Gravesend since it launched in September, and organisers are bracing themselves for a surge when benefits cuts come into force in April.

The food bank here is charity-run but the government is actually involved in referring people to the service.

Anyone whose benefits have been delayed, or has been refused crisis loans, can be sent to the food bank by Jobcentre Plus, while social services, councils, housing associations, children’s centres and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau are also among those handing out vouchers to those in need.

David Idowu co-ordinates the Gravesend food bank, which runs four days a week across three churches, and he has seen both the expected and non-expected walk through the doors.

“There have been single people and families, both young and old,” he says. “People have to pluck up the courage to come here. Some come in very embarrassed, saying they don’t want to be here. Some are angry or are quite tearful and distressed. One man stayed in his car and got his children to come and collect the food. We want to restore dignity and hope.”

Each voucher can be exchanged for enough food to support someone and their family for three days, usually a mix of non-perishable foods such as cereals, tinned fruit and vegetables, rice, pasta, coffee and tea.

It is hoped that within those three days that person’s benefits will come through, or will have done so after the limited three vouchers on offer to each person have been redeemed, but those running the food bank at the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Northfleet aren’t so optimistic.

“Three to four vouchers maximum is advised but it could take longer than that for someone’s benefits to be processed,” said Claire Noordally.

By logging each voucher the claimants can be tracked, enabling the food bank to work with the referring agents to get situations resolved, rather than just doling out food to people who become dependant on it.

Analysis of the vouchers reveals the most deprived areas. Since September, 83 vouchers have been redeemed, which have fed 236 people; 131 adults and 105 children.

Seventeen of those vouchers came from people living in Pelham ward in Gravesend, eight were from Central ward, seven in Singlewell and six in Riverside.

The main reason people use the service is because of delays in receiving benefits but that is followed closely by people working on such low incomes that they cannot afford to feed their families.

The number of people walking in varies from day to day.

“It is up and down,” says David. “But the trend is up, partly because more people have heard of it and partly because more people are in need.”

Claire cites the case of one couple who went from both being in full-time jobs to redundancy in the space of a week, leaving them incapable of feeding their children.

“People’s situations can change so quickly,” she says.

Come April, food banks are expecting demand for their services to soar when benefits are cut.

The Trussell Trust, which organises food banks in the UK, has warned churches to “get ready”.

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