A vital lifeline is being offered to hundreds of people across Northumberland who are struggling to feed themselves and their families, thanks to the work of food banks.
In some cases, the crucial parcels have literally proved to be the difference between living and dying for some individuals who are in desperate need of food.
And with Christmas fast approaching, the importance of these services throughout the county is brought sharply into focus.
Take Amble for instance. In the two weeks leading up to December 25 last year, the town’s food bank distributed 11 parcels to people in the town and surrounding areas.
This is compared to a weekly average of two to three hampers at other times of the year.
The Alnwick District Food Bank is also expecting an increase in distributions over the festive period.
Chris Friend, coordinator of this particular group, which encompasses Coquetdale to the coast, said: “We are expecting a spike and I think that will be the same for food banks across the county.
“We hope that donations will increase to give us the food we need to meet the demand that we think will come in over the Christmas period.”
While the festive season brings an increased demand, the food banks offer a helping hand all year round to those in need and parcels are bulked up for those people with children.
Since forming in June 2013, the Amble Food Bank, which involves many town-based organisations, has distributed 135 parcels containing some 6,000 items of food to families in Amble, Warkworth and Hauxley.
The food bank is coordinated by Vineyard Amble with support of Amble churches and it operates through a referral system, involving the likes of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), Northumberland Emergency Transition Support (NETs) and Amble Youth project.
Alan Rapley, leader of Vineyard Amble and part of the project, said: “You can’t underestimate the importance of food parcels for those families who are in dire need. Some of the cases you come across are simply tragic.
“For many recipient families of food parcels they have literally been life-savers. Two single, homeless men who had no income during the six months it took to sort their benefits were kept alive by specially made-up parcels.
“In another case, a family received a food parcel and their young child said ‘mummy, does that mean that we can eat tonight?’”
Food items can be donated at a number of venues in the town including The Co-operative store on Queen Street and the town’s churches, as well as the chapel in Hauxley.
Alan said he is thankful to those who support the cause in any way.
He added: “We are very grateful to all those who donate food items, often families who themselves are on benefits who want to help others more needy than they are. The response from people in the town has been magnificent.
“We recently received a boost to the food stock when we took delivery of food items from churches and also Amble First School, in Edwin Street.
“This will help the food bank prepare for the Christmas period.”
The Alnwick District Food Bank is going from strength to strength since forming at the start of the year, having built on the platform created by its involvement with the North Northumberland Food Bank, which was set up by Sure Start regional manager Jan Casson in 2012 and also incorporates areas such as Wooler, Belford, Beadnell and Seahouses, as well as Berwick.
Chris Friend said: “Alnwick is still affiliated to the North Northumberland Food Bank, meeting quarterly to share ideas, but we felt that there was a need to create an Alnwick District Branch, encompassing Coquetdale to the coast.
“Our volunteer-led team seek to meet the essential food needs of disadvantaged individuals and families through a compassionate approach to genuine need.
“Over the course of the last few months, there has been a growing band of people wanting to be part of the team ranging from the WI in Rothbury to churchwardens in Alnmouth.”
The branch is primarily church-led but has representation from other organisations such as Gallery Youth and Rothbury WI as well as key referral agencies such as CAB, Sure Start and NETs. The team meets on a monthly basis.
The group is also wanting to link in with doctors’ surgeries and health centres.
Chris says it is currently doing around 30 parcels a month and drop-off points in Alnwick include the Co-operative store and Costa Coffee, both on Bondgate Within. Churches also take in items.
The group is working to set up extra points in Rothbury and Longhoughton.
Julien Lake, of the North Northumberland Food Bank, said that such services are tremendously important, adding: “We aspire to make sure that places such as Berwick, Beadnell, Belford, Lowick and Wooler and all the other communities around these areas get the support that they need.
“Last week, we had a woman from Bamburgh church bringing us some food which we will store and use.”
He added that organisations such as Bell View, Belford, and Wooler’s Glendale Gateway Trust are involved in the North Northumberland Food Bank, which operates on both a referral and self-referral basis. Donations to food banks need to be long-life items.
For more information about the Amble Food Bank, call Alan Rapley on 01665 714870.
Details of Alnwick District Food Bank are available from Chris Friend on 07557 442243 or by visiting alnwick districtfoodbank.co.uk
Call Julien on 01289 303366 for information about the North Northumberland Food Bank.