Festive season surge in demand among needy for food bank

Thursday, 5 January 2017

THERE was a startling 10 per cent increase in the uptake of the Strabane Food Bank services over the festive season compared to the previous year's figures.
The local demand for the services, which operates from its base in Church Street in the town, has "alarmed" manager Ursula Gallagher and her dedicated team of volunteers.
The organisation, which has been in existence for over three years, offers support to people living in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area and witnessed the marked spike in the uptake of their services over the Christmas and New Year period.
Opened in 2013, in partnership with the Trussell Trust - an umbrella organisation for all food banks - the service has helped thousands of needy families and individuals and was the first of its kind to be established in the North West.
Speaking to the Strabane Weekly News, Ursula said that she and her hard-working team responded to the needs of local people in an effective manner and despite the surge in demand saw "phenomenal" support from the community.
Strabane's food bank is busy all year round, but Ursula claims that it mostly helps those who are on low incomes.
"The Christmas period is always busy, but we saw a 10 per cent uptake on last year which would alarm us at how busy it was," Ursula said.
"Again our highest statistic was the working person on low income and when we got talking to people, which is very hard because people don't want to be there as it's their last resort, they were saying that they just couldn't make ends meet and you just can't imagine the pressures of Christmas."
The food bank is in demand all year round but Ursula noted a particular increase around the holiday periods - including Christmas and the summer holidays - which motivated them to set up their Breakfast Club.
School meals
Ursula continued: "Our average is about 20 food packages a week but we see a spike at Christmas and an uptake in the summer time as well. We have identified through talking to people that it's during the holidays because children aren't receiving school meals and that's why we developed the Breakfast Club which provides families with a healthy breakfast.
"We did see men coming forward who are over 25 and out of work but the low incomes would alarm us.There's an aftermath as well because January won't quieten down for us as people struggle to recover from Christmas spending."
Along with the Breakfast Club, the local organisation offers a wealth of resources and services to offer help and support such as budgeting plans and sign posting to those who need it.
"The food is actually the smallest part, but it's effective," Ursula said. "When people come into the food bank for the first time, they don't want to be there but when they get speaking to us they realise that they are not on their own.
"Some people have to choose between eating and heating and we would do a budget plan. We would 'sign post' them for debt advice and provide a listening ear.
"We support in many ways and we have a lot of success stories which are fantastic. Some people volunteer and it gives them the confidence to go back to education and the Breakfast Club is great because we can get to a deeper level with people. Some mothers have gone back to education and have gone on to get work. We have to stop people going through a 'revolving door.'"
Public support
Ursula says that the support from the public has "blown" her away and it enabled the food bank to donate some luxury items as part of their packages to help make Christmas that little bit extra special.
"The generosity (of the public) has blown us away, the donations were coming in thick and fast," she said. "We got lots of food and with any monetary donations we were able to buy luxury items. Because people are referred, we know the size of families and this year we were able to give more and an anonymous donor also gave us oil stamps. It has just blown me away, I can't express in words the generosity of the community, it has been phenomenal.
"We have been around since 2013 and we would put out five to six tonnes (of food) every year and everything is donated by the public and that speaks volumes for our community, the businesses and the churches.
"The scary thing is, this is only going to get worse because of welfare reform so support is essential. If there ever was a charity that belongs to the people, this is it because people are supporting their neighbours."
Encouraging those in need to come forward for help, Ursula said: "Don't struggle, the food bank is here and it is a help and it does help and it does make a change.
"The food bank makes people realise that they are not on their own and it opens many doors to other organisations and it's important that community organisations work together. It's a good feeling when you work with other organisations and the volunteers need support too because there has been a lot of hours put in over the last three weeks but you like to take the positives out of it. When you have support from all sections of the community, it's better for the person."
Strabane Food Bank is located at 5B Church Street and can be contacted by calling: 028 71 883102.


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