FEATURE: Christmas Christian compassion in Hitchin as numbers of foodbank users rise

Charmaine Ball (second left) and other volunteers at the Hitchin Foodbank

Charmaine Ball (second left) and other volunteers at the Hitchin Foodbank - Credit: Archant

Layth Yousif meets volunteers, and customers, at a Foodbank project helping hard-up folk make ends meet

An example of the amount of food a family of four would need for three days.

An example of the amount of food a family of four would need for three days. - Credit: Archant

Dad Derek makes no bones about what it’s like to be struggling to put food on the table for his family.

“I’ve skipped paying bills to be able to feed my children,” he says, and he’s not the only one.

Derek – it’s not his real name, because he doesn’t want to embarrass his three children – is one of the people who relies on support from Foodbank projects across North Herts.

He has turned to the volunteers who run the Hitchin project when times got just a bit too tight.

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He said: “I was a hard-working labourer but I hurt my back. Things have been really difficult for me but Hitchin Foodbank is a lifeline to me and my family.

“I know people in work who use it. It’s so easy for people to struggle, all it takes is one unexpected bill and you can’t buy food.

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“You have to feed your children first and foremost and my wife and I have missed meals so our children can eat.

“Lots of people who use Foodbanks are proud and wouldn’t be doing it if they had the choice. It’s not begging, it’s just getting you over troubled times.

“I have pride, too – but you have to be able to feed your family.”

The number of people turning to Foodbanks for help in one of the richest countries in the world is steadily growing.

In Hitchin a year ago the team helped 62 people over the course of a month.

But during October that figure had almost doubled to 107.

Trish Bonnett, a pastoral assistant at the town’s Our Lady’s Church where the foodbank is based, said: “We represent a Christian response to the needs of those who are hungry in our community.

“Our long-term aim is to eliminate the need for foodbanks, and we will constantly appeal to our government to ensure it’s also their aim.”

The Hitchin arm of the nationwide network of food projects under the umbrella of the Trussell Trust was set up in September last year, as part of the project which was already up and running in Letchworth.

The first two Trussell Trust foodbanks opened 10 years ago, and now more than 420 have been registered, with two more being added every week.

Distribution warehouse manager Sue Attwood said: “Volunteering is incredibly rewarding. It’s hard work but you are helping people. All walks of the community are incredibly generous when it comes to donating.

“It’s a double-edged sword – we would be delighted if we didn’t have a role, because it would mean there would be no foodbanks.”

Warehouse volunteer Frances Fisher from Hitchin said: “We have packed 32 bags of food this morning in an hour. I’m sad foodbanks are neccessary.”

Hitchin Foodbank manager Charmaine Ball said: “I just wanted to help so I volunteered.

“All our volunteers are great and I would like to say a big thank you to everybody who has donated food or their time.”

Sam, a father of two young children who works 60 hours a week in a job he asked us not to mention – he doesn’t want his bosses to know he needs to use a foodbank – is another who has had to turn to the Hitchin team for an emergency helping hand.

He said: “I work full-time but my car broke down and it cost £700 to fix. It completely wiped out our savings.

“I’ve got two kids aged two and five – but I was worried about buying food for the kids this month I thought I’d use it. I didn’t want anyone to know.

“When you go food shopping you take things for granted, but until you are in this position it’s hard to understand.

“I can’t speak highly enough of all the staff here. They don’t judge anyone. I feel more positive now I know there is a safety net like this.

“I’ve had a troubled month and they have helped me obtain food for my kids for the next week – I am very grateful.”

Here’s another user, a 31-year-old mum-of-two with children aged 12 and 10.

She said: “I ran a successful business and everything was going well when I found out my partner was taking money from my account leaving me £4,000 in debt, with rent arrears.

“It was hard to keep my head above water. Last year my kids wouldn’t have had a Christmas without this place. We are so grateful.

“Once I get back on my feet I intend to bring food here so I can help others.

“I work really hard and people shouldn’t be judgmental or stigmatise people who use foodbanks – it can happen to anyone. I never thought I’d use one.”

As Derek said: “In the 21st century people using foodbanks in Hitchin shouldn’t be happening – but the fact is people are struggling.

“The government isn’t really helping the lower classes and having foodbanks is the result.

“This place really is a godsend. I am so grateful – as are many people in Hitchin.”

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