Food banks proving lifeline
by Tom Mack
Nearly 50 food banks will be up and running by the end of June – double the number that were open a year ago.
The Fareshare project now has 35 food banks around the county, compared with 22 this time last year.
By the end of June, that number will have risen to 48.
Fareshare, an international movement, receives food from shops and factories and gives it to churches, charities and community groups to distribute to the poor.
Organisers said the increase in banks was needed as the free food was becoming a lifeline for people affected by the slow job market and changes to benefits.
Simone Connolly, Fareshare's project manager for Leicestershire, said: "The increase is largely in relation to problems with the economy and what we're seeing is local authorities and community groups preparing for the welfare reforms.
"The bedroom tax means a lot of people will be £30 to £40 a week worse off and that's pretty drastic – that's their money for food."
She said food banks were popular with cash-strapped councils which wanted to find solutions to poverty that did not cost much.
Last month, a bank was set up on the Gilmorton estate with a £500 grant from Leicester City Council.
Simone said: "The increase in demand also means we're getting new applications all the time and more food is required.
"We have to work hard to sustain the service we provide and we're reliant on the food industry – the manufacturers and retailers which give us food."
Cassie Harris, 22, who uses the food bank on the Gilmorton estate, said rising prices and unemployment had had a double impact on her family.
She said: "My partner was made redundant and now he's on a low wage so we're getting housing and council tax benefits.
"I used to be able to afford to shop in Morrisons, but with prices going up I can't any more.
"It's Iceland or the market now.
"I think things are going to keep getting worse until there are more jobs."
At the Carpenters Arms rehabilitation centre, in Loughborough, director Judith Spence has been working with groups such as Fareshare to feed the poor for about five years.
She said: "Since Christmas, we've seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of people and we now give out more than 600 food packs a week – that's 150 individuals and 100 families.
"I think we're going to see more these next few months because people are worrying about their benefits."
Leicestershire AIDS Support Services also runs a Fareshare food bank and has seen a 33 per cent increase in the amount it gives out in the past year. Chief executive Jenny Hand said: "More people are needing Fareshare food and the numbers have risen from about 30 to 40 a week here.
"We help members of our client group because food and a good diet are very important for people whose lives are affected by HIV.
"We're bracing ourselves for more people after the welfare changes take effect, especially with some people having to go four or five weeks between their benefits payments.
"Fareshare is a lifesaver for many people."