PACT Food Bank: From the Petersfield Post - 7 March 2012
To many, Petersfield is an affluent market town littered with coffee shops and unaffected by economic woes, yet scores of hungry families have had to visit a food bank so they can get by. Since November there have been 96 incidents of families needing food in Petersfield – providing for 142 children and 152 adults.
And Bordon has similar problems says a town vicar, who plans to open a food bank there by Easter. Both East Hampshire District Council and East Hampshire MP Damian Hinds agree there is poverty in the area, often disguised by headline figures of high house prices and commuter salaries. Most families struggling to feed themselves are juggling low income with increasing utility bills, high rent and climbing food prices.
And as local unemployment is likely to climb, according to business leaders, more people are expected to turn to charities to get by, as government aid fails them. Recently, the Post has highlighted high rents and low housing benefits in East Hampshire as an issue. It is also possible for those desperate enough to sign away their child benefit in return for a loan. As more families look for help in putting food on the table, those behind the Petersfield food bank have launched a High Street appeal for tinned foods, non-perishable groceries and items such as toothpaste.
Organised on behalf of the Petersfield Area Churches Together group, the Salvation Army distributes the boxes and bags of food to those who need them. They say they have seen a steep rise in the number of desperate families. Salvationist soldier Brian Edwards said: “The food given out in the past six months is well above that issued during all of the first year.
“On the surface this is an affluent area but it has its difficulties, and there are people really struggling to get by.” He said although those who turned to the food bank were only supposed to get one helping, some were coming back time and again. The pensioner said: “I have to treat each case on its merits – I’m here to help. “Often they are here because there has been a hiccup in their finances, a wage or benefit cheque hasn’t cleared, or they have had to settle a big bill, but people are finding it increasingly hard to get by on a day-to-day basis.”
And Mr Edwards has been liasing with those behind the proposed food bank in Bordon. Bordon food bank volunteers have visited him twice recently, to see how the scheme is run in Petersfield. Vicar of St Mark’s Church in Bordon and former journalist, Rev'd Deborah Scott Bromley said: “We first gave out food over Christmas, but after talking to people then it was decided there was a definite need here for a food bank to help families.”
To help hungry local families, a Petersfield travel agents and fitness club have launched a joint appeal.
Meon Valley Travel in the High Street and Curves ladies fitness centre, based in Petersfield Festival Hall, are asking for tins of food and other non perishable groceries.
These will be donated to the Salvation Army food bank. Salvation Army spokesman Brian Edwards said: “We are very grateful to Curves and Meon Valley Travel, and we will be very thankful for the food gifts.”
Until now, churchgoers have filled donation bins at their church and these have kept the larder full, but increased demand recently has emptied the cupboard.
Curves manager Laura Carpenter said: “As times are difficult we wanted to help local people.” And ladies wishing to join Curves are being offered an appeal deal – if they donate two bags of shopping they join for free.
It is hoped a Waitrose shopping trolley in the window of Meon Valley Travel will be filled as many times as possible.
Spokesman Laura Cummins said: “I think this appeal is particularly relevant at the moment, and will help old folk and young families who are struggling.” She said if the shop gets inundated with donations there is room to store them until they can be delivered.
The Petersfield food bank run by the Salvation Army from its Swan Street church has been feeding local families for about 18 months. But in the past six months Mr Edwards, from Clanfield, has seen demand for emergency food parcels rocket. He said: “We run the food bank for the Petersfield Area Churches Together group and I am handing out more considerably food than before.” Families needing food are sent to the food bank by social housing group Radian Housing, Petersfield CAB, churches and Sure Start Butser.
Applicants must complete a quick interview outlining their need and are given a form confirming their identity for Mr Edwards, before collecting a food parcel. As well as food, the parcels contain items such as toothpaste, and often a few treats for children. But the worrying trend, says the Salvation Army soldier, is the number of those needing to visit the food bank regularly. This could make them dependent on it, rather than it being an emergency backstop.
Sadly, he said, donated items have to be bar coded so they can’t be returned to shops and exchanged for a cash refund, which could be spent on non-essential items. Mr Edwards says he can’t give out money, as there is none to give, and very
Reproduced, with kind permission, from The Petersfield Post