Rhoda McCarter, Nichola Boyd, Elaine Connery and Nancy Henry volunteer at the Storehouse in Banbridge
WITH the Christmas period fast approaching The Outlook spoke with volunteers from two local foodbanks on the importance of their service and the stigma still attached to the word ‘foodbank’.
Over the last number of years, there has been a significant rise in the number of foodbanks across the UK.
In 2018, there was a 13 per cent increase from the last year on the number of people availing of the much-needed service.
Benefit delays and benefit changes stemming from the roll-out of universal credit has attributed to a large percentage of the increase in people using foodbanks.
Shocking reports of vulnerable individuals and families deciding whether to heat their homes or feed their families has gained media attention and unfortunately, this is a situation which any of us could easily find ourselves in.
Cornerstone Foodbank in Kilkeel was set up in November 2018 with the official opening in September this year.
It’s doors are open every Tuesday from 12pm to 2pm and Thursday from 6pm to 7.30pm and are located to the rear of the Christ Church building.
It is run by volunteers who staff it on a rota system and it forms part of the Christ Church Community Outreach Programme.
Linda and John Quinn with Stanley Speers of Cornerstone Foodbank in Kilkeel
John Quinn, Cornerstone Foodbank Manager told The Outlook that while appointed as the Church’s Family Worker he realised that assistance on an ongoing basis was badly needed.
His wife Lynda’s work within the community also recognised a need for food hampers and parcels and her many contacts helped the pair establish contact with referral agencies.
John explained: “I saw first-hand the difference a support of this kind had and after seeing many children putting plain biscuits into their pockets at our summer scheme to bring home, I heard God’s call to consider establishing a foodbank”.
“We consulted with already established foodbank agencies and taking direction from the Church Select Vestry, went ahead with a format similar to that of the Pantry Foodbank in Newcastle.”
John added that Cornerstone foodbank has great support from Asda in Kilkeel who allow a collection trolley for food items in their store together with generous donations from within the community.
From November 2018 until it officially opened in September, 60 food hampers have been provided and since September, 30 food parcels have been given.
John said that they have had requests from families and individuals living in Kilkeel, Annalong, Rostrevor and Warrenpoint.
A voucher system is used and he further added that they are thankful to referral agencies such as health visitors, doctors, schools, Surestart, Homestart, Advice NI and Fisherman’s Mission to name a few, who hold and allocate these vouchers.
“We have found folk who come to collect their food parcels are often embarrassed but are soon put at ease as they receive a warm welcome over a cuppa as their specific food parcel is put together.”
John said that as the winter sets in and many people struggle to heat and feed themselves, any donations are greatly appreciated.
A voucher can be obtained from any of the agencies mentioned or by contacting the foodbank on 078568 88701.
Currently one voucher per month is the allocation but an emergency food parcel can be provided if necessary.
Similarly, the Storehouse Community Foodbank in Banbridge was set up by local churches in the area who felt a need for one in the community.
Elaine Connery, volunteer and committee member explained: “We saw that people were struggling to afford basic necessities and struggling with food poverty.
“We came together to form a local foodbank and it has steadily grown into the current one we have today.”
In the last year 2018-2019 Storehouse has given out 232 food parcels.
107 of these were to families in need within the Banbridge area and the rest of the parcels went to couples or individuals.
They run three sessions a week on Tuesday and Thursdays from 2.30pm to 3.30pm and on a Wednesday evening from 7pm to 8pm.
Rhoda McCarter tending to the supplies in Banbridge
The foodbank is run on a referral system with users gaining a voucher from one of the following referral partners; GPs at Banbridge Group Surgery, health visitors, social workers, St Vincent de Paul (Banbridge), school principals or head of pastoral care of primary and secondary schools, Homestart, Surestart, Via Wings in Dromore or church ministers in the Banbridge area.
Elaine said: “We see lots of factors influencing why people use our service.
“There have been a lot of benefit-related issues since the introduction of Universal Credit.
“We also see people using the foodbank for things like loss of jobs in the household, unexpected bills and illness.
“We see higher numbers of people using the foodbank over winter and around September, as these are times of the year where there is higher pressure concerning money.
“We try not to let there be a stigma and we have the ethos that we stand in the gap to help people through periods of specific difficulty.
“Sometimes people feel a bit embarrassed when they come to the foodbank for the first time, but this quickly disappears as we build up relationships with our clients.”
As well as food parcels, the Storehouse provides baby items and toiletries, baby clothes and children’s clothes, coal and wood to ensure families are able to stay warm over the winter period and coats (mostly for children) to make sure that all children in contact with the foodbank stay warm over winter.
Storehouse partners with Tesco Banbridge through the Fareshare scheme and also offers frozen bread to their clients at each session.
Elaine continued: “We exist because of the dedication of our volunteers and the generosity of the community in Banbridge, so a big thank you to everyone who has supported us in any way.”
For anyone wanting to get in touch with Storehouse Community Foodbank the easiest way to get in contact is through the Facebook page Storehouse - Banbridge Community Foodbank.