THE number of struggling locals turning to the Hastings Food Bank for hand-outs has shot up 20 per cent since last year – and that figure will increase further over the Christmas period.
Figures released this week showed that between April 2012 and April this year the scheme helped 1,129 people – 599 of which were children.
In the months since (up to and including November) that demand has rocketed to 2,076 people – a leap of 20 per cent already before the charity hits is traditionally busiest months of December, January and February. That means the jump from last year’s figures to this will become even more drastic as hundreds of families go into the Christmas period in dire need of help.
Natalie Williams, who helps co-ordinate the food bank from her base at Kings Church, said: “There has been a massive increase in demand compared to last year. We are now at a point where we are giving out more food than we have donated.
“With the cost of living going up but wages generally staying the same or going down there are bound to be more and more people who are struggling.
“In somewhere like Hastings, which has a lower average income to start with, that is going to be a bigger problem than elsewhere.”
Ms Williams stressed the fact the people given help by the food bank are in dire straits.
In most instances clients are given a maximum of three vouchers – equivalent to about a week’s worth of food.
This means the food bank can help them through difficult periods rather than be a service relied on for long-term support.
And she was quick to point out that all sorts of people were left with no option other than to turn to the service for help.
She said: “The food bank works with more than 50 local agencies which can provide vouchers to people to then be redeemed for food packages.
“It is impossible to make assumptions over what sort of people we help,” she said. “We have people from all backgrounds and ages coming to us.
“They are all in crisis for one reason or another. Anyone could find themselves in a position where they need help.
“There is no shame in it.”
Heartbreaking tales of parents going without food to feed their children or people surviving on little more than bread and soup are unfortunately common.
And although Ms Williams was full of praise for the generosity of local people who, she said, had offered “amazing” support, she said she hoped some others might use the Christmas period as inspiration to help out.
The charity’s website (www.hastings.foodbank.org.uk) has a list of the sort of foods in most demand and a host of supermarkets and churches now have donation bins on site.
“Christmas isn’t just about enjoying yourself and appreciating all you have,” continued Ms Williams, “it should be about showing kindness to people less fortunate than yourself.
“It would be lovely if people could add a couple of items to their weekly shopping and then donate them to us.
If you can’t be kind at Christmas, when can you be?