Thousands turning to food banks for help

Food banks have become a way of life for some families. David Burrows reports.

On the up – Former homeless couple Onyx Bradbury and Sky Johnson at Telford Food Bank in Madeley
On the up – Former homeless couple Onyx Bradbury and Sky Johnson at Telford Food Bank in Madeley

Across Britain, 500,000 people or more experience weeks at a time when they don't have enough money to buy food at a supermarket.

So great is the problem that food banks have become commonplace in Shropshire and just last week the Trussell Trust said three times as many people received emergency supplies from food banks in the three months from April this year compared with the same period last year.

Telford food bank was set up in April as part of the wider Telford Crisis Network, which co-ordinates help for the most vulnerable people in the borough. It is managed by Crisis Network co-ordinator Jake Bennett.

Jake is at the food bank in Madeley every night between 5.30pm and 6.30pm, co-ordinating the volunteer effort. About 100 people have volunteered since the food bank opened its doors and the centre has about 25 regulars.

Jake said: "Throughout the day people in crisis contact one of the agencies that form part of the Crisis Network – including Citizens Advice and Telford & Wrekin Council – to request support in the form of a food parcel.

"We typically receive someone who has been removed from their domestic situation.

"If somebody has been removed through, say, abuse and has a baby of their own, having food shows that they can provide for their own child.

"We go from something like that through to people who temporarily find it difficult because of delays with their benefits.

"When there is a change in someone's circumstances, that causes a delay in payments, so even if people are trying to get themselves out of the situation they are in it can have a negative knock-on effect."

Last month Telford Food Bank fed 500 people. A third of those were children.

Jake said: "Because of the school holidays, with children being at home and not getting a meal in school, we do anticipate an increase in demand from next week."

The information about those applying for help is fed into a database ready for Jake and his team of volunteers when they start at 5.30pm.

Most of the food comes from members of the public and is donated at community centres.

Pair 'go from the worst of the worst to the top' thanks to team at Telford Crisis Network

Telford Food Bank is just one part of a wider support network operating across the borough.

Telford Crisis Network is an informal web of public, private, voluntary and community sector agencies designed to co-ordinate the help that the most vulnerable people in our society need.

And nowhere is that help more perfectly illustrated than in the case of two young homeless people whose lives have been turned around in the space of just two days.

Onyx Bradbury, 21, and Sky Johnson, 24, had been sleeping on the streets for years, before the Crisis Network came to their aid.

Onyx said: "I was in care from a young age and got kicked out at 18 because that's when they stop looking after you.

"I met Sky in Northampton and eventually we ended up in Shropshire.

"We had been going from agency to agency but not really getting anywhere." Then, by chance while they were sleeping rough in Shifnal, the couple met Deborah Reck, a team leader for Sanktuary.

Sanktuary, which is part of the Crisis Network, offers a safe space for clubbers in Wellington though its "street angels" scheme.

Deborah said: "I wasn't planning to go to Shifnal that night, but I went to the Co-op to get milk and Onyx was in a sleeping bag on the pavement outside.

"I started a conversation with her. I told them I knew how to contact Jake and phoned him. Within 20 minutes he phoned back to say he could come down and start to help them.

"Jake took them to the KiP project (an information project and day centre for homeless people) and then took them to Telford & Wrekin Council to get registered for housing.

"By 5pm I was told that they had a key and they were ready to move in.

"We were able to get them food through the food bank. It was only on Thursday that they got any money.

"They only got that because we went through an extra process at the JobCentre, otherwise it would have been another three weeks.

"That's where the food bank comes into its own. There are an awful lot of people who fall through the gaps. We get people who say to us they know they have benefits coming but they're having to wait three weeks and what are they supposed to do until then."

Thanks to the help from the Crisis Network, Onyx was able to celebrate her 21st birthday in a house.

She said: "Our lives just turned around, going from the worst of the worst to the top."

Onyx is now in the process of trying to start up her own cleaning business with help from people she had been put in touch with by the network.

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