Doncaster Foodbank helping almost 5,000 people in crisis

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Family breakdown, illness, redundancy or even an unexpected bill - more and more people experiencing a change in fortune are needing help to put food on the table.

When faced with the hard choice of either paying for your heating, servicing debts or eating, thousands of Doncaster residents are turning to charity to get them by.

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Doncaster Foodbank (Trussell Trust) has been offering emergency food to people in crisis since 2013. The service not only provides nutritionally balanced meals three days a week but also essentials such as washing powder, nappies and hygiene products.

In the last three years the number of people seeking their help has risen by nearly 3,000 to 4,700.

Doncaster Foodbank manager Mark Snelson said: “4,700 three day emergency food supplies provided in 2015 is still 4,700 too many. Foodbank referrals in Doncaster show few signs of declining in 2016. The numbers of people hitting a crisis where they cannot afford food are still far too high. This many people needing emergency food must not become the new normal in our town. More needs to be done if we are to see the need for the foodbank decline.

“It is all too easy when you look at figures to forget the real people behind the statistics. Recently one mum visited the foodbank after an unexpected serious illness meant she had to take a couple of months off work. This coincided with an administrative error in the payment of her working benefits, and the combination of these two issues, both outside of her control, meant she was unable to afford food for her family. That’s why the foodbank is so vital.

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“We are seeking to help some of the poorest and most deprived Doncaster citizens who are in food poverty and struggling to put food on the table. Many foodbank clients are low income families hit by a crisis that is not their fault such as redundancy, reduced working hours or something as seemingly small as an unexpected bill. Some are victims of domestic violence, while others are experiencing benefit delays or are facing debt problems or long term illness or disability.

“Delays to a benefit can take a range of forms; people can be waiting for weeks or in some cases months to receive benefits for which they are eligible. Benefit changes include people who may have been too sick to work but are now in the process of being moved to a different benefit and are awaiting payment.

“Time and time again we hear the foodbank brought hope when it felt like no one else cared.

“Responses from both care professionals and beneficiaries confirm that the foodbanks’ timely interventions at times of dire need help prevent the escalation of short term crisis into crime, housing loss, family breakdown and mental health problems.

“We are very grateful for the ongoing support of the community, and hope that one day there will be no need for us in Doncaster. But until that day comes, we will continue to offer the best possible service to help local people facing a crisis.

“This community project at its heart is about Doncaster people helping other Doncaster people in crisis. Our foodbank is run by the community for the community.”

The foodbank is a charity motivated by Christian principles led by Christ Church in partnership with other local churches

Food is distributed to clients by voucher only at the centres in Doncaster town centre, Bentley and most recently in Rossington, opened in April.

Schools, businesses and faith groups have provided vital support to the foodbank. Its partnership with Greggs, Marks & Spencer and Co-operative store means that the facility can provide some surplus fresh food alongside the tinned and packaged foods generously provided by the public.

Every client is referred by one of over 100 Doncaster frontline care professional agencies, such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, children’s centres, school liaison officers, health visitors, housing and mental health teams as well as social workers. The agencies assess a client’s need for emergency food before issuing a voucher.

Foodbank clients can receive a maximum of three foodbank vouchers in a row. Longer term support is available but the foodbank is keen to avoid dependency.

Mark added: “We create a warm, welcoming environment in each of our three centres. Volunteers are trained to provide a listening ear over a cup of tea and a bite to eat.

“As well as providing emergency food we help people out of hunger by addressing some of its root causes.

“The foodbank takes time to signpost clients to other helpful local services to help reduce the likelihood that someone will need a second foodbank referral.

“We provide further support, information and advice to clients through our partnership with a number of agencies who attend every foodbank session.

“This support covers services such as welfare advice, budgeting help, housing and debt support, as well as help with mental health problems.”