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Even those with jobs are struggling to put food on the table and relying on food banks to feed their families

PUBLISHED: 09:48 31 December 2014 | UPDATED: 09:48 31 December 2014

Maureen Reynel and volunteer Alex Townsend work on sorting donations at FIND Foodbank in Ipswich.

Maureen Reynel and volunteer Alex Townsend work on sorting donations at FIND Foodbank in Ipswich.

For nearly 25 years, Maureen Reynel has been a lifesaver.

Volunteers Emily Roddie and Mama Bourouis work on sorting donations at FIND Foodbank in Ipswich. Volunteers Emily Roddie and Mama Bourouis work on sorting donations at FIND Foodbank in Ipswich.

Working tirelessly to provide food parcels to those in need in Ipswich, she delivered 3,008 food packages last year, and the need for food banks over the festive season has been greater than ever.

Volunteers at Families in Need (FIND), the charity Mrs Reynel established 24 years ago to help families and individuals affected by poverty, worked tirelessly in the run up to Christmas to put together enough food packages for families who are struggling for food, as the cost of the festive season puts the strain on people’s wallets.

For many whose income isn’t able to cover their expenditure, they are dependent on this help.

This year, the organisation has already delivered 240 on top of the 3,008 last year, with 1,100 food parcels prepared for Christmas alone.

Volunteer Jean Mayhew works on sorting donations at FIND Foodbank in Ipswich. Volunteer Jean Mayhew works on sorting donations at FIND Foodbank in Ipswich.

Mrs Reynel said: “People are really struggling, even people with jobs are finding their circumstances are changing, and sometimes struggle to make ends meet.

“I have spent years seeing the suffering so I know what is going on in lots of homes. Lots of people do not have access to benefits and I cannot just let them starve.”

“For some families it is a lifesaver, because without it they would have nothing,” she added.

Access to food packages is based on a referral system, where GPs, social services, probation officers, children and family centres and mental health carers, among others, can all refer people they work with who require help.

A volunteer works on sorting donations at FIND Foodbank in Ipswich. A volunteer works on sorting donations at FIND Foodbank in Ipswich.

While the expectation may be that disabled, sick and homeless people are the only ones that are relying on food parcels, the reality is that families, couples and low-income individuals are also living below the minimum standard, and can be referred for a food package.

“There has been a big increase since the recession in 2008, and it has risen ever since,” Mrs Reynel said.

It’s a sentiment Graham Denny, founder of the Basic Life charity agrees with: “The recession has ended but during that time people had to run up bills on their credit cards,” he said.

“Even when both people in a family work, they are still struggling to pay the bills.”

A recent survey from Travelodge sugggested that one in five in employment live below the living wage, and with the average household spending £460 on Christmas, paying the bills becomes an even bigger challenge.

The result is that more and more people are dependent on food bank services, particularly at Christmas when money is being spent on gifts, and the additional referrals for food parcels has a knock-on effect for the food banks.

More food donations and increased numbers of deliveries are needed, and more volunteers are therefore required to put together the packages, check the dates of the produce, and make the additional deliveries. With some staff only able to volunteer one afternoon a month, the increased dependance on the service is putting the strain on food banks and their volunteers.

The East of England Co-op, which has established food bank donation bins in their stores for shoppers to donate an item, has doubled the amount of stores participating this year from 70 to 137 across East Anglia, in an effort to help out.

Membership campaign officer for Co-op Amy Barratt said: “We have been supporting food banks in previous years, but the food banks we support are just crying out for more help this time of year.”

The increase in in-store collections will mean that the Co-op can support 22 Trussell Trust and independent food banks in local towns and villages.

But for Mr Denny, the biggest problem is helping people who may be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for food to come forward.

“We are trying to encourage people who need to, to come forward, and break that stigma for asking for food,” he said. “When people come to the charity shop to collect their food parcel, people are given carrier bags instead of a box so it looks like they have just been shopping.

“Years ago people wouldn’t go to charity shops, but now it is trendy, so there doesn’t need to be a stigma about receiving help with food.”

For food banks such as FIND, the numbers dependent on their food parcels means that they cannot look too far ahead. The FIND food bank costs around £1,000 a week to run which is tough to manage for the organisation when raises all its own funds, save for an occasional council grant.

Mrs Reynel said: “We should be OK now at least into January, we just have to focus on the now.

“I would love to see not so much need for the food banks, just a few deliveries each day, but I can’t see it happening yet.”

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