'We are all one paycheck away from a crisis': Shropshire foodbank tells of the tragedy of poverty and the joy of helping

Tonnes of food, double the amount of clients and an increased demand - foodbanks across Shropshire are busier than ever.

The Trussell Trust Food Bank at Bargates Church Hall in Whitchurch
The Trussell Trust Food Bank at Bargates Church Hall in Whitchurch

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for those living on the bread line, but with the generosity of foodbanks, the burden is significantly lessened.

Becoming reliant on a foodbank can be a harsh reality to face for many families, as they try to support children, relatives and even pets on a tight budget.

The increase in demand seen by Whitchurch Foodbank, and others in Shropshire, has been attributed to many different problems - from Universal Credit to dependency issues.

Volunteers at Whitchurch Foodbank said the number of families referred to them over the recent Christmas period doubled the amount the year before.

As part of their Christmas food project in 2019, they helped 61 families put a Christmas dinner on the table, compared to just 28 families in 2018.

The Trussell Trust Food Bank

The foodbank opened in 2013 and bosses say they have seen an enormous increase on the demands of the organisation since then.

On average, when they first opened, around five people would visit them in a week.

In comparison, in the months leading up to Christmas last year, the foodbank saw eight to ten people per morning flock through its doors.

Alan Scutt, Whitchurch Foodbank chairman, warned that foodbanks could become a permanent branch of social services, which he believes should not be the case.

The Trussell Trust Food Bank

"We are in danger of becoming part of social services if we are not careful," Alan said.

"The last few weeks have really seen an increase in the number of people using the foodbank.

"There is certainly an indication that the need is growing and sadly, some of these folk are in a situation that doesn't see an answer very quickly."

Alan said that people come through the foodbank doors for many different reasons and the increase in usage could be attributed to their general growth as an organisation.

The Trussell Trust Food Bank

He added: "Many people may be dependant, whether that's on alcohol or drugs, and others are struggling with debt. Debt is a major issue.

"Mental health is also a big issue as far as people's welfare is concerned. The breakdown of the family unit causes problems.

"The large number of families we have are often single parent families which puts more and more pressure on the situation the government is trying to control."

For people in a crisis, foodbanks are a haven and Alan said they have had positive responses from people in their Christmas project.

The Trussell Trust Food Bank

"I estimate it was around 1.1 tonnes of food that we issued to the 61 families at Christmas, worth nearly £2,500," he added.

"In the whole of December, we had 2.4 tonnes of food donated.

"Schools in the area, Whitchurch, Wem and Prees mainly, contact us with families who they think will benefit from help at Christmas. They are described as 'just about managing'.

"We then send out food parcels, with fresh food for them to cook a Christmas dinner, with enough leftovers to put in their store cupboards."

The Trussell Trust Food Bank

It is not just food that makes a difference though, according to Alan. He said the kind gestures of the 40 volunteers he has working there can be just as essential as the food donations.

"The local Sainsbury's in Whitchurch donates flowers to us when they have reached their sell-by date, even though they are still fresh.

"The flowers make such a difference. One of our volunteers asked a client if she wanted a bunch of flowers, and she said it had been so long since anyone had offered her flowers.

"When she handed her them, she burst into tears. It was so nice to see the joy in her face."

The Trussell Trust, the charity that helps foodbanks operate, including the one in Whitchurch, is calling for an end to the five week wait for Universal Credit as they believe it contributes to an increase in the number of people being referred to foodbanks.

The Trussell Trust Food Bank

The charity's website says the new Universal Credit system means people have to wait five weeks for their first payment and so are often referred to foodbanks in the meantime.

Alan explained: "Sadly, people get into crisis for all sort of reasons. People come to us because they have a crisis in their life.

"That might be that their benefits are not being paid, or there was a change in their benefits. Universal Credit has raised a particular problem with regards to the five week wait before they are allowed to have their money.

"During that five week period, unless they take out a loan which is often very difficult to pay back, they get issued with a voucher for us in order to help them.

"As Trussell Trust say to us, we are all one paycheck away from a crisis and it is very true."

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