Plymouth Foodbank says need has never been greater four years on
PLYMOUTH Foodbank today celebrates four years of helping communities and fighting poverty.
The Foodbank marks its birthday documenting the charitable spirit of Plymouth and its residents – but with a stark warning that the need for it is greater than ever before.
"To be perfectly honest we would like to be out of business, but that is not the way things are going at the moment," Maria Mills, Project Manager at Plymouth Foodbank said.
She started the Foodbank together with Project Co-ordinator Eunice Holliday, who she refers to as 'The Boss', back in 2008.
"We were at a seminar held by the Trussell Trust about Foodbanks and wondered if there we should start one in Plymouth," she recalls.
With the help of three social worker students they contacted local authorities and organisations to gauge if there was a need. The answer was a resounding yes.
"Tamar Science Park put up the £1,200 that we needed to start the charity, and before long we had 25 volunteers collecting food, fund-raising and manning the counter at our premises in Manor Street," Eunice said.
However, the first week was far from auspicious.
"No-one showed up at all and we were pretty worried. Of course, we had forgotten that the agencies capable of referring people to us had only just received the needed food vouchers," Maria said.
The second week, staff served eight people, and before the end of the year more than 1,000 people received packages.
Today, more than 180 different professionals and agencies give out food vouchers to the Foodbank to help people in crisis.
The vouchers can be exchanged for food boxes at the bank's premises. The boxes contain tinned and dried food donated by local people and businesses.
"The food comes from everywhere – organisations like the Rotary Club and the Brownies give us food, as do schools, children's centres and churches. The food boxes cover everything from breakfast to dinner and we try to make them varied and healthy," Eunice said.
A total of 198 organisations and individuals donated food to the Foodbank last year bringing in a total of 23,739 kg of food.
The value of the food totalled £41,598 and it was used to help 4,800 people in need, 1,200 of which were children.
"Last Friday alone we served 50 people, and from the 25 volunteers we started with we have grown to 65 today," Maria said.
However, the success of the Foodbank is a dark reflection of the economic developments in Plymouth and Britain over the last four years.
The Plymouth Foodbank, run with the help of the Trussell Trust, is the 25th of its kind in the country.
Today the Trussell Trust helps run more than 250 Foodbanks in England.
The Plymouth branch has opened a new office in the north of the city, there is also one in Saltash, Tavistock and now plans for one in the Keyham area.
"The need is greater now than it has ever been and we are seeing more people who have three crisis loans and cannot qualify for another one. It is a worrying sign," Eunice said.
"We see everybody. It's far from just drug addicts or alcoholics – there are people on benefits, youngsters struggling to make ends meet and people whose businesses have failed.
"An example of the latter was a bricklayer who came to us saying 'I'm 50 years old and I've never been on benefits in my life and I don't know what to do or where to go'," Maria said.
For both of them, the reward is helping people find their feet after having fallen of difficult times.
"You learn to celebrate the little victories. And once in a while, you see a someone turn their life around."