The Storehouse foodbank in Sudbury says rises in the cost of living and changes to the benefits system mean it expects even higher demand for its services than usual over this Christmas period.
The charity, based at the Stour Valley Vineyard Church in Tudor Road, is seeking donations of food, toiletries and Christmas treats, to support people who are struggling to make ends meet across south Suffolk.
So far this year, the foodbank has seen the local need increase 64 per cent from 2016, which itself was up 42 per cent on 2015.
It says while the monthly average normally goes up around Christmas, it believes this year will see an even greater increase, due to recent trends of added pressure on personal finances.
Emma Stewart-Darling, Vineyard Church pastor and Storehouse team leader, said: “Everybody wants to be in control of their own life. Most people who come in just hate coming to a foodbank. They feel ashamed having to come and ask for help, so we make that as easy as possible.
“The difference is at Christmas, people are just stretched that much further and fall into poverty much easier, because they’re desperately trying to make a nice Christmas for their family.
“Generally, in November and December, we see a 30 per cent increase in what we give out. Part of that is we give out more to be generous. But the need is growing all the time.
“We feel we’re here as long as this crisis is happening, but we don’t want to be doing this. We long for the days when foodbanks can close down, because we’re not doing this because it should be happening — we’re doing this because it’s needed.”
The foodbank is also collaborating with other agencies to help those referred to it to climb out of their difficult financial situations.
In 2017, the charity has fed an average of 100 people per month up to October, rising from 70 people a month in 2016, and this month alone, it has helped nearly 100 people in just two weeks.
Vicky Leonard, Storehouse community liasion, said many of the people the charity supports are employed, but still do not earn enough to afford what they need.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicates that 24 per cent of in-work families and 18 per cent of working individuals are currently on the poverty line.
Vicky told the Free Press: “They only come when they’re desperate. There’s still a social stigma around going to a foodbank, and one of the things we want to do is reduce that stigma.
“Everyone we see are living on the bread line and it only takes one event, one episode, an extra bill, a delay in their income, a zero hours contract, and they have no financial back-up.
“The gap between working income and the cost of living is rising all the time for everyone. For people on the bread line, that gap is causing them to go into food poverty.
“There’s still a stigma going around that the foodbank is for people who are taking the mickey and that we are facilitating people to be in need. That’s not our experience at all.
“At the end of the day, these people are in financial poverty and all we’re giving them is food.”
She also said the rollout of Universal Credit, the government’s reform of the benefits system, has contributed to the rising demand for the foodbank.
The new system has proved controversial since it began due to delays in benefit claimants receiving their payments, and Vicky explained a lot of people are struggling to cope because of this.
She added: “The food donations are all local. We live in a really generous community. People are rising to the occasion and they don’t want to see people around them struggling. They want to help.”
The Storehouse accepts donations all year round, but to prepare for Christmas, it is gathering festive foods until Sunday, December 10.
It will distribute bags, each with enough to feed a person for three days, plus extra festive foods, via social services, family centres, Citizens Advice Bureaus and at its own drop-in sessions at the Stour Valley Vineyard Church.
You can help by bringing food to the Storehouse directly, or donating online via www.stourvalleyvineyard.org/christmas-shop.