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It may be December but that doesn’t mean everyone is celebrating. There are hundreds of people in our communities who can’t afford a roast turkey on December 25. So, as we launch our Christmas Food Appeal, Ruth Scammell finds out more about the work our local food banks are doing to support those in need.

Presents, carol singing, food, drink and lots of celebrating.

6/12/13  RS''Brian Welch (left), and Phil Rutt at the Fareham and Gosport Basics Food Bank.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (133358-2) ENGPPP00320130612170451

6/12/13 RS''Brian Welch (left), and Phil Rutt at the Fareham and Gosport Basics Food Bank.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (133358-2) ENGPPP00320130612170451

That’s what most of us associate with the month of December.

But for some people in our community, that’s not the way Christmas pans out for them.

For those people, the festive period is one of the worst times of the year.

Many families don’t have enough money to feed their families, never mind go out and buy them presents to open on Christmas morning.

And that’s why The News’ Christmas Food Appeal started in the first place.

Over the last few years, more and more people have found themselves struggling to pay the bills, having to choose between eating a meal, and turning on their central heating.

Nobody should have to live like that, especially at this special time of year.

But sadly, with people finding themselves out of work and facing changes to the welfare system, that’s what’s been happening.

Phil Rutt is the chairman of trustees and a volunteer at the Fareham and Gosport Basics Food Bank.

He says: ‘There appear to be more people struggling for whatever reason.

‘But it’s not us opening our doors to anyone.

‘You have got to come with a voucher.

‘Someone from the agency makes a judgement that this person hasn’t got enough money to buy food.

‘It’s not people queuing up outside for a free handout.

‘I wouldn’t like to forecast what’s going to happen in the next year.

‘But my guess is it’s going to keep growing because there are other changes in benefit thresholds.

‘People with zero hours contracts or part time job contracts often struggle.’

In the past year, 2, 380 people have been referred to the Fareham and Gosport Basics Food Bank.

That’s a rise of almost 20 per cent on the previous year, when 2,000 referrals came into the food bank.

It means that a total of 4,500 people in Fareham and Gosport have been fed through the food bank in the last year, as this figure includes families.

It’s a huge number. And Phil says so many people are embarrassed to admit that they need help, and to have to visit the food bank in the first place.

‘A lot of people don’t want to be there. They don’t want to come in,’ he says.

‘There’s a real stigma and embarrassment about people coming through our door.

‘A lot of these people want to be independent.

‘In a lot of ways, it’s de-humanising to come to a food bank.

‘They want to live normal lives.

‘The vast majority of the people aren’t homeless.

‘They are ordinary people who have fallen on hard times.’

The food banks often find that they are having to stock up on food in the months building up to Christmas, as the winter months are extremely busy.

‘The period from September to December is crucial for us,’ Phil adds.

‘That’s the way we build stock to enable us to operate from January to September. This period is very important.

‘I continue to be astounded by the generosity of people in our community. They seem to come up trumps.’

The food bank often uses social media to keep people updated on the need in the community.

‘I regularly put shopping lists on our Facebook page and what we need gets donated,’ Phil says.

‘People respond positively with great generosity.

‘Some of them aren’t best placed to be that generous.

‘We had a lady who came in as a client nine years ago and she still donates.

‘Without the donations we would be up the creek without a paddle.’

And that’s exactly why the food appeal is so important.

In addition to the basic food that people are given to keep them going, the festive treats can mean some families can enjoy a Christmas that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

It might mean that parents can use the small amount of money they do have to put towards a present for their children.

So youngsters can wake up on Christmas morning with a gift to open.

‘I am absolutely delighted The News is running this appeal again,’ Phil adds.

‘It’s going to be good. It’s another way in which we can carry on operating.

‘It’s important that people who are vulnerable in our community and are down on their luck have the chance to enjoy as normal a Christmas as they can.

‘We are already getting Christmas puddings and mince pies in the collection boxes.

‘It all adds together to deliver something positive and value adding to the people who come through our door.

‘We are giving out basic stuff but there’s something to be achieved by adding something like mince pies. They can help to make a difference.’

Volunteers help keep food banks running

FOOD banks are essential to people facing a financial crisis.

But there are many people across the area who volunteer and give their time to help make up hampers of food.

Natalie Hanchett is from the Salvation Army in Portsmouth. They deliver food hampers to people in need in the city.

She says it’s heartwarming to see people’s response when they receive a food parcel.

‘People are very grateful. Last year there were a couple of families that came to the centre to collect their hampers and they were just completely overwhelmed,’ she says.

‘There is a lot of pressure around buying expensive gifts and having the latest gadgets and toys.

‘So for families who are struggling it’s difficult to deal with that, particularly with children.

‘There has been a change in the welfare and benefits system which may have had an impact on people.’

Clare Martin is the director of community projects at Pompey in the Community.

They regularly support people in need by delivering food to homeless shelters and women’s refuges in the city.

At this time of year they sometimes put on a Christmas lunch for those in need of help.

Clare says: ‘We just look at what’s come in and what’s needed and give it to whoever needs it the most.

‘People say it’s changed their lives and that they can do something positive for their children.’

This year, Pompey in the Community will be supporting The News’ campaign.

Clare says: ‘The appeal is absolutely brilliant.

‘It’s very sad that it is needed though.

‘But it always amazes me the support that people give. It’s heartwarming. It’s so important.

‘There are kids that go to school hungry and then they don’t get any dinner.

‘The kids see all these happy messages on the television about Christmas.

‘But their Christmas will never be like that.

‘If we can do a little bit to help, that’s fabulous.’

For more coverage on our Christmas Food Appeal 2014 click here.