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Feature: Inside a Havering foodbank – feeding those living on the breadline

PUBLISHED: 10:00 07 June 2015

The food bank at Harold Hill. Volunteers Val Hughes, Angela Harvey and Mavis Lindsay

The food bank at Harold Hill. Volunteers Val Hughes, Angela Harvey and Mavis Lindsay

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More than 4,500 emergency food packages have been handed out by Havering foodbanks in the past year, including 2,243 to feed children.

The food bank at Harold Hill. Volunteers Val Hughes and Mavis LindsayThe food bank at Harold Hill. Volunteers Val Hughes and Mavis Lindsay

The figures, released by The Trussell Trust – which has centres in Harold Hill, Collier Row and Rainham – show that the use of foodbanks in the borough has more than quadrupled since 2011.

Mark Reeves said: “In 2011, when I opened the Harold Hill centre I would see about five families a week. Now I see 25.”

I joined volunteers at the Harold Hill centre for one day last week, to see the scale of the operation to feed those on the breadline.

Both Mark and London foodbank manager, Sarah Greenwood, are quick to counter any prejudices that may accompany foodbank users.

The most common reasons people are referred to foodbanks are benefit delays, low income and benefit changes.

Mark told me of a Havering man who turned to foodbanks to feed his children after the death of his wife meant he could only work part-time.

He also spoke of a couple in their twenties both working on minimum wage struggling to feed their three children.

Kim Brown, 54, of Harold Hill had been referred and came to pick up her food while I was visiting. She said she was there because of “a lack of shopping at home”. It’s also been a long time since she last worked.

She leaves with food for a single person for three days.

Sarah said: “The image of hard-working British people is never portrayed in the media. It’s not Benefit Street. Most Harold Hill users are from the white British community.

“The cost of living in London is so extortionate. Many people are living on the brink of poverty,”

In total 4,742 food parcels were distributed by the Haveirng foodbanks in the past year.

This is a decrease from 5,079 in 2013-14, but that trend is not expected to continue.

Academics at Oxford University have predicted that use of foodbanks will rise further and said the government’s planned welfare cuts could double the number of people in need of support.

Meeting any growth in demand will be dependent on donations and volunteers.

Local residents and organisations donate two tonnes of food a month.

Havering Council also provides a £10,000 grant, but the charity still struggles with donations to cover running costs.

The centre’s volunteers, local church members or residents, work three or four days a week.

“They all have a real heart to serve,” says Mark who started the centre to leave a mark on people’s lives after a conversion to Christianity in 2005.

Jean Farrow, a volunteer since 2011, said: “Some people feel so ashamed to ask for food. We give them a cup of tea and a biscuit to let them know it’s OK, they’re not alone. Food usually isn’t the only crisis.”

Before she went home to make tuna pasta I spoke to Kim as she enjoyed a cup of tea and biscuit. She looked lighter than when she entered and seemed content just to sit.

After a chatting to us about her cat and Havering’s parks she headed off to cook.

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