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Food banks are lifeline for the needy
Buy this photo » Volunteer Brian Johns with Donnington Doorstep manager Sandra Ruge on his first stop of the day
THE social benefits of one of Oxford’s two food banks are clear to David Halsey.
As he picked up a bag of tins from Cowley’s Community Emergency Foodbank, he said: “If it wasn’t for this place, tomorrow afternoon I would probably be in the Co-op trying to get away with sandwiches, a bread roll and a can of Coke.”
The 46-year-old Headington resident, who recently completed rehab for drugs and alcohol, gets £125 a week employment support allowance and said he was struggling because of problems getting his benefits through.
He said: “The foodbank is stopping me going back to a life of crime.”
Michael John Byrne, 67, said he struggled to live on his £310 pension credit and £154 monthly retirement pension.
He said: “I know there are worse people off than myself and I don’t mean to beg. I have never begged in my life.”
Mr Byrne, from Blackbird Leys, said: “If I ate like a normal person I would go through my money in less than a week.
“They do wonders here, I don’t know how to thank them.”
About 30 people pick up food twice a week from St Francis Church in Hollow Way.
People have to be referred to the food bank – which opened in 2008 – by welfare professionals and are allowed only three visits in all.
Committee member Bruce Fairbairn said: “The goal is to give food to those who are in crisis, for those in desperate need.”
People stuck between benefits as part of Government reforms are common, he said, adding: “A lot of peoples’ lives are chaotic, the vast majority have problems.
“But there are a small number who absolutely, through no fault of their own, have run out of money. They are responsible people and they can’t make ends meet.”
Meanwhile the Oxford Food Bank hopes its model of providing unwanted food from supermarkets and wholesalers to charities will catch on around the UK.
It provides about 5,000 fresh meals a week through more than 20 organisations for causes like the homeless and asylum seekers and gave out an estimated three tonnes of food over the two-week Christmas period – enough to feed 700 people.
The food bank has started handing out food directly at community centres and also now works with Oxfordshire County Council to target families in need.
Retired business executive and food bank co-director David Cairns said the charity last year handed out £450,000 of food.
The charity, based at Seacourt Tower in Botley, received a boost last year when Oxford Mail parent company Gannett donated a walk-in fridge through its Gannett Foundation charity wing.
Among the volunteer drivers is retired public relations officer Brian Johns, 68, of Summertown.
He said: “This seemed to me to be a combination of two good things – trying to reduce food waste and providing people with good fresh food.”
When the Oxford Mail visited in December, Brian was joined by Alex Crumpton, 24, and freelance concert organiser Laura Ashby, 29.
Miss Crumpton, who recently finished a masters at Oxford Brookes University, said: “I hate waste and wanted to do something.”
Donnington Doorstep children’s centre in Townsend Square was among the stops.
Receiving a box including peppers, pineapples, herbs and grapes, manager Anna Thorne said: “It has provided us with an awful lot of ingredients that reduce our overheads.”
The team then visited the Steppin’ Stone Centre in Magdalen Road, East Oxford, which provides affordable meals for the homeless.
Project worker Eugene Dooham said: “Without it we wouldn’t be able to put on such a variety, we couldn’t afford to do it. It is a lifeline.”
Chris Barnes, 57, who has been attending the centre for about eight years, said: “I get some veg in me, which I wasn’t getting before.”