Desperate families struggling to pay their bills are turning to the Fylde’s food banks in their hundreds to help feed their children.
Blackpool Food Bank, the Bridge Project and Milton Street community centre in Fleetwood are being inundated with appeals for food just days before Christmas.
Volunteers at Blackpool Food Bank, on Walker Street, say they are now getting 200 families a month seeking food donations – four times the amount compared to the same time last year.
At the Bridge Project, which operates from the Salvation Army Citadel on Church Street, 40 people are fed a hot meal each day, up from 35 a day last year.
And helpers at the Fleetwood centre says it is seeing up to 90 people a week.
Neil Reid, the founder of Blackpool Food Bank which is sending out special Christmas hampers of mince pies, Christmas puddings and selection boxes to families, said: “We always receive heightened interest at Christmas because of the nature of this time of year.
“It’s a fact food banks across the country are experiencing an increased demand and that will continue.”
Blackpool Food Bank and their partners are open as much as possible throughout the festive season to cope with demand.
Mr Reid added: “We are trying to do whatever we can to put food in people’s stomachs.
“There are limits to what we can do.
“We are putting a family parcel together with Christmas food like mince pies and selection boxes for children.
“It’s just something to give it an obvious Christmas feel because without this they wouldn’t get it.
“None of the volunteers here see themselves as a lifeline.
“There is a much bigger reliance on the voluntary sector at the moment and there’s a lot of great work going on in Blackpool.”
In Blackpool, figures from the Step Change debt charity suggest 30 per cent of people in the town have been at least three months behind with their bills in the last six months or say they feel their debts are a heavy burden.
In Wyre around 14 per cent of adults are in a ‘debt crisis’, while in Fylde the figure is nine per cent.
Last year, Blackpool was named as having the highest rate of personal insolvencies in the country, with almost 58 per 10,000 adults.
The Bridge Project operates from Blackpool’s Salvation Army Citadel on Church Street.
Beverley Taylor, Bridge Project Manager, will not only give residents food, but help them to try and get out of their current predicament.
She said: “It’s not just about giving people food and letting them walk away.
“It’s going to last them two or three days but what happens after that?
“We’ve put on education as part of our project to help people when they turn up.
“It’s a pick me up, not just a hand out.
“We encourage them to come along to education sessions and that allows them to be equipped with skills to stop them being in food poverty.
“We give them interview and confidence building skills because we have got to get them to believe in themselves.”
The Bridge Project, which opened in 2002, is also open everyday and will serve a Christmas lunch on December 25.
Mrs Taylor added: “This time of year is huge and it will be bigger this year.
“We are appealing for donations from everybody and this year it’s a bigger appeal than before with the need being greater.
“We always get a lot of interest and last year we had 85 people here.”
Blackpool Food Bank supplies seven parcels a week to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).
Blackpool CAB also refers people to the Blackpool Discretionary Support Scheme – Blackpool Council’s urgent assistance service.
Julia Hannaford, advice services manager at Blackpool CAB, said: “We also use other charitable organisations such as the Ladies Sick Poor who provide vouchers rather than physical bags of food, as these can be more appropriate for some people who struggle with the heavy bags and tins.
“Here at Blackpool CAB, we look at the advice we can provide to ensure the reason for the client needing a food parcel is identified and addressed so that hopefully the need should not arise again.”
Fleetwood also offers a food bank, at Milton Street community centre.
The Help Direct-run service is open until December 20 and is co-ordinated by Ken Hayton. He said: “We’ve been busy and we are making sure people have got plenty of food.
“If people need us they can always get to us, one way or another.
“The numbers go up and down every week but I imagine we will see 80 or 90 people a week in the run up to Christmas.
“We get a lot of regulars coming here so it’s very important we do this.”
Coun Sarah Riding, cabinet member for health at Blackpool Council, said: “To use many food banks people have to be in receipt of benefits but the reality is they are a sad sign of society.
“Food banks are a lifeline for our families and we want to work to pressure the Government to help us tackle this because of the (central Government) funding we are losing.
“A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity said this is the first time since the creation of the Welfare State there is more working families in poverty, and that’s particularly pertinent in Blackpool.”
Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “We have to recognise food poverty is a reality and food banks are a good way to offer relief to someone who can’t feed themselves, but we need to tackle why they are in that situation.
“It can be for a range of reasons which could be easily solved or far more ingrained.
“There’s a saying if you give a man a fish you can feed him for a day but if you teach a man to fish you can feed him for life, and that’s the key thing to leading people to a more sustainable future.”
‘Act now to stop hunger getting worse’
Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK were affected in April by the Government’s biggest shake up in the welfare system for decades.
MPs argued the changes were necessary to tackle the cost to the taxpayer, to cut the budget deficit and simplify the system.
The changes to benefits began when Universal Credit was first introduced to replace the system of working age benefits and Tax Credits at the end of April.
Universal Credit will eventually replace income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit.
The Trussell Trust gave 350,000 people three days’ emergency food from its food banks between April and September this year – triple the numbers helped in the same period last year.
The organisation is now calling for an inquiry into the causes of food poverty in the UK and the surge in use of food banks.
Chris Mould, executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, said: “The level of food poverty in the UK is not acceptable.
“It’s scandalous and it is causing deep distress to thousands of people.
“The time has come for an official and in depth inquiry into the causes of food poverty and the consequent rise in the usage of foodbanks.
“As a nation we need to accept that something is wrong and that we need to act now to stop UK hunger getting worse.”
Food bank Factfile
Blackpool Food Bank was set up in February last year and by the end of November 2012 it had provided food to 370 families.
The service has around 30 volunteers and by the end of March this year the food bank had already exceeded last year’s total.
At the moment they are providing food parcels to between 150 and 200 families a month, four times the amount last year.
Generally, people are referred to the Food Bank by partner organisations such as Help Direct, Citizen’s Advice and Sure Start children’s centres.
Those who qualify for help are generally in low income jobs, out of work or on benefits and are struggling to put food on the table and are actively seeking help from charities and organisations.
Families attending Food Banks are informally interviewed when they arrive about their circumstances and offered help to address those issues.
Food Banks generally provide cupboard essentials including bread, milk, cereal, soups and tinned food.
The Bridge Project has 25 volunteers and helps 40 people a day by serving a hot meal, compared to 35 people a day this time last year.
It also puts a further 15 people through classes in CV writing, IT and interview skills.
Fleetwood’s Milton Street service has 10 volunteers and sees 80 to 90 people a week.
How to help, and how to GET help
• To donate to the Bridge Project or access their services call (01253) 626114.
• Blackpool Food Bank will arrange donations by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
• Fleetwood’s Milton Street service is accessed by calling Fylde and Wyre Help Direct on 0303 333 11 11.