Larne Foodbank is gearing up to help local families who are struggling to feed themselves over the festive period.
The food bank, which is supported by donations from 20 local churches, recently fed its 1,000th customer after opening in March 2013. Pupils from Larne Grammar school also contributed over 690 items to the scheme.
Co-ordinator Alan Turner says that the demand for its service is higher over the Winter, with oil and gas prices forcing people to “heat or eat.”
He told The Times: “The problems of the rest of the year are exaggerated in Winter because of fuel bills.
“We provide people with enough food to last for three days. At Christmas we sometimes add little extras such as gift-wrapped presents, a Christmas pudding, mince pieces and some people will pop in toiletries.”
Since its opened last year, the food bank has received 20 tonnes of donated food, which Alan says is a lifeline for struggling families. He explained:
“Christmas is extremely difficult for families who can’t afford to feed themselves and who have to think about presents. TV advertising and kids at school create a lot of pressure on less well-off families.
“It’s great to be able to give even a small gift to a family in need that will help to see them through Christmas. We are not offering X-boxes but even a little gift is very much appreciated.”
This year, a pair of donors have gone the extra mile by supplying the food bank with pre-wrapped gifts, carefully chosen and labelled.
Alan commented: “Not only have they spend money, they have spent a lot of time and thought labelling the presents for men, women and boys and girls of certain ages. I keep getting amazed at the generosity of people.”
While the recession and job losses have caused difficulties, Alan says he is seeing an increasing number of “working poor” accessing the foodbank’s services. He explained: “We are getting folk in employment or on zero hours contracts who can’t afford the basics.
“They are the working poor, people who have had one or two surprise bills and suddenly find themselves in big difficulties.”
The foodbank, which works in partnership with The Trussell Trust, helps those who are referred there with vouchers distributed by groups such as CAB, the Simon Community, social workers and health visitors.
Alan says he is not surprised that the number of foodbanks have mushroomed in recent years. According to Advice NI, there are currently at least 14 food banks in the Province, with more opening regularly.
Meanwhile, The Trussell Trust has handed out more than 11,000 free food parcels this year.
While he acknowledged that some may feel there is still a stigma attached to using foodbanks, Alan says the support they offer can bring great relief. He explained: “They get the food they need and they are also befriended. Folk find that it wasn’t such a terrible experience.”