Behind the doors of a brown storage cupboard in a church hall, e there are hundreds of tins of all different types of food.
There are also boxes and boxes of snacks and Christmas puddings.
Christmas is a time where we all settle down with the family and munch our way through a mountain of festive turkey and mince pies. But what about those who are less fortunate? People struggling to afford any food, never mind festive treats?
This year, items ranging from tins to cartons of juice and milk and even chocolate bars have been handedout by a small team at Paulsgrove Baptist Church. Altogether, they have given away well over a tonne of food.
Husband-and-wife team Richard and Sandra Caville, who live in Paulsgrove, first came up with the idea to create a food bank when they noticed more and more people were coming to the church for food. Sandra, 55, went on to take voluntary redundancy at her job and the pair took on the project together.
Sandra says: ‘I wanted to help set up something like this and we wanted to formalise it. We had discussions with the pastor who looked at the logistics of having it and then things went from there. We became involved with Martin Mant because it was easier than doing it on our own.’
Martin Mant runs the Portsmouth Food Bank in Southsea, which is linked to the Trussell Trust. Sandra and Richard have been running the Portsmouth North Food Bank for almost a year, and are open on Tuesday and Thursday between 12-2pm (although it is closed next week).
They are there to give people the help they so desperately need, as Richard, 61, explains: ‘We know there’s a lot of need and benefits are being cut. The majority of people coming in are on them.
‘It’s hard enough when they are coming in normally and when benefits suddenly get stopped, people are left in trouble. Especially if there’s a gap of about four to six weeks.’
Visitors to the food bank, or clients as they’re called by the team, are those who are in desperate need of help – it’s not designed to be a long term solution. People include the unemployed, those refused crisis loans or have delayed wages or benefits, the homeless, those on a low income, the sick and those in debt.
Sandra says: ‘We had a man once who looked so down and his daughter was talking for him. He had £10 and it was all he had for the week to feed his family. It was either spend it on the electric or on food and he looked so dejected.
‘When we came back with five bags of food for him, his face just lit up. He couldn’t believe he was getting so much food and the gratitude was unbelievable. He said “I really didn’t believe I’d get that much food.”’
But a major problem for the food bank is that many people who are in need don’t know where to find the help, and have no idea where to collect food vouchers from.
‘There aree more than 100 organisations across the city who suport the food bank’, explains Sandra.
‘ ‘Clients can go to them when they’re in need, and this can include the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Family Welfare Association and The Lighthouse Salvation Army on Albert Road in Southsea.’
Here front-line care professionals, social workers and other individuals can assess someone’s position, and give them a voucher to take to a food bank.
The Trussell Trust, which is linked to the Portsmouth North Food Bank and the Portsmouth Food Bank in Southsea, has a plan in place for the amount of food people need. When they arrive at the food bank they are given a package which lasts for three days and contains mainly non-perishable food.
Richard says: ‘For families with children it’s 26kg, 12kg for a couple and 6kg for an individual, which should last around three days. From January until November we gave out 1,224kg of food, and we received in 1,762kg of food.
‘The food is designed to be a well-rounded diet. If there’s not enough, we go out and buy it ourselves.’
Although the Portsmouth North Food Bank has only been running for just under a year, they have seen an increase in their attendance.
Richard says: ‘With the benefit changes it will bring in more people. It’s one of the major things, but also unemployment is a factor because we are hearing stories from clients and tenancy support that people are just left with no money.
‘People can go up to weeks without anything, so we’re worried about how people will survive. It’s scary. Part of what we do is role play, and we imagine ourselves in their position.’
Sandra says: ‘It would be wonderful if we weren’t needed but I can’t see that happening. We have to rely on the vouchers, so it’s our job not to judge.’
For more information, go to paulsgrove.org.uk or call (023) 9237 7814.
Busy at Christmas
The biggest food bank in Portsmouth is the Southsea food bank, which is linked to Paulsgrove Baptist Church. Started four-and-a-half years ago by 52-year-old Martin Mant, it was designed to offer people as much help as possible.
Martin, who lives in Somerstown, says: ‘It was basically seeing the need there was. I heard on the news about the Trussell Trust and how that had started pretty much in a garden shed in Salisbury. It was doing really well.
‘I thought Portsmouth wasn’t nearly as affluent as that, so it would be good to start one here. We’ve been growing ever since. We’re funded, along with the Paulsgrove Food Bank, by the National Lottery Fund.’
This year the food bank has seen around a 17 per cent increase in numbers, and it’s constantly rising.
Mark says: ‘This past week before Christmas has been particularly busy as people stock up. As a result of demand we are putting together Christmas hampers. Although we are closed next week, we are open the following week for people to come in.
‘I think we will continue to grow because a lot of clients come to us through benefits, and with the changes in the system this can only get worse really.’
The food bank is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 12-2pm, but is closed next week.
Go to portsmouth.foodbank.org.uk or call (023) 9298 7977.
40 per cent increase
In the past 12 months, the Fareham and Gosport Basics Bank has provided more than 900 food parcels, feeding more than 1,800 people. Set up by the Friend of the Homeless charity in 2004, 57-year-old Steve Dent, who lives in Fareham, is a trustee and volunteer with the bank.
He says: ‘In the past 12 months we have had 1,200 referrals of people coming in, but that could include families too. This can come through an agency or the job centre, and they give them a voucher, which gives them a week’s worth of food.
Last year we gave out 30,000 tins of food and we definitely expect an increase this year. It’s a month-onmonth increase and the numbers go up all the time.’
Steve adds: ‘We saw a 40 per cent increase in the past year. It’s about seeing the difference the project makes for people that are going through a crisis.’
Steve believes the added pressure to make Christmas special can be hard for families who are struggling.
He says: ‘The pressure at this time of year is a lot for people, as they want to give their loved ones gifts.’
The Fareham and Gosport Basics Bank is open Mondays and Fridays from 1pm until 3pm and Wednesdays from 12.30pm until 1.30pm. It will be open on Christmas Eve.
Go to friendsofthehomeless.org.uk or call (01329) 822204.
How to donate
Food banks across the country rely heavily on the public’s support to keep going, as all the food donated comes from them.
At Portsmouth North Food Bank, Portsmouth Food Bank (Southsea) and the Fareham and Gosport Basics Bank, you can drop in food during their opening hours.
Another food bank in the area is the Beacon Food Bank at Portsdown Community Church. Call (023) 9247 0167 for details.
As well as giving food, you can volunteer at the food banks or fundraise for them. If you have a business, you can become involved as a partner.
Sandra says: ‘We’ve got different people coming in for all sorts of reasons. We have one lady who’s been in the past few weeks and she brings something in every week. I think she wants to make it a regular thing for her to do.
‘We rely on a lot of individuals and we had a collection at Waitrose at the end of November, but it’s great whenever people can bring anything in.’