Essex: Food bank staff hand out parcels to 143 children as families struggle to put meals on the the table


- Credit: Archant

Staff at food banks across the region say they have seen a dramatic rise in the number of people asking for emergency food parcels this year.

Agencies in Colchester and Tendring say more families are struggling to feed themselves due to a combination of benefits cuts, the rising cost of living and household debts.

They say it is only because of the generosity of businesses and individuals who support them that they are able to provide food for the growing number of recipients in need.

At the Salvation Army in Clacton, which has provided emergency food parcels for a number of years, community manager Tracey Cooke said demand for handouts has doubled over the past 12 months.

She said: “The feedback we get is that it can directly be attributed to the general increase in the cost of food and utilities in relation to low incomes, benefit sanctions, debts and pay day loans.

“This year to date we have provided food for over 1700 people, including 143 children. We see the demand steadily increasing and as a result of this we have recently aligned ourselves under the umbrella of the Trussell Trust, which oversees most food banks, in order to use their model of delivery.”

In nearby Walton, a new food bank was established three months ago after church leaders identified a need in the community.

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According to treasurer Pat Wilkinson, 50 adults and 53 children have been helped since the start of June.

She said: “Before we started I wouldn’t have said there was a need for what we do but now I can see there definitely is. A big problem area is when people have a change in benefits and their money is stopped while their new benefits come through. They have few reserves and nowhere to turn while they wait for their money.”

In Colchester, manager of the town’s food bank, Linda Hurr, said there has been a big spike in demand since April when new welfare reforms, such as housing benefits caps and the so-called bedroom tax, came into force.

“In April we were handing out around 40 parcels a month and now that figure is around the 50 to 60 mark,” she said.

“In the past year we have given food parcels to around 3300 adults and 800 children.”

Ms Hurr estimates the food bank, which moved to larger premises on Mooreside Business Park in Colchester in the spring to handle demand, will turnover around 30 tonnes of food in 2013 compared with 20 tonnes last year.

She added: “If there is any good news, it is that people are donating more food. The generosity of people and local supermarkets has been wonderful.

“The food parcels we hand out contain a note saying that it has been donated by the community, because people who come to use often feel isolated and abandoned, and we want them to know there are people out there who care.”