Calderdale Food Drop-In Centre: caught-up in the cross-fire of cuts

Food queues outside Ebenezer Church, Halifax.
Food queues outside Ebenezer Church, Halifax.
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The forthcoming turbulent shake-up to welfare reform has raised concerns across the political and social spectrum. This week, the Bishop of Truro, Tim Thornton, has called for research into the correlation between welfare reform and food bank user increases.

A recent study by Church Action Poverty and Oxfam found that more half a million UK residents will be forced to rely on food banks when the cuts kick in.

Every Saturday, The Calderdale Food Drop-In Centre at Ebenezer church, Halifax, helps to feed some of our most vulnerable members of society through handing-out around 120 food parcels, each week. The centre has been exisiting on individual, church, organisation and small business donations to provide a weekly drop-in service of food parcels and support to people and families struggling to cope in the harsh realities of a radical welfare over-haul. In a bid to bridge the ever-increasing poverty gap, David Fawcett of the Calderdale Food Drop-In Centre and Lloyds business connector Gareth Ewing are hoping to bridge the gap between the business and voluntary centre through a campaign to encourage Calderdale businesses to donate and deliver food and toiletries on a weekly or fortnightly basis.

Ebenezer Church, Pellon Lane, Halifax, opens its doors every Saturday to society’s vulnerable amidst economical hardship and a forthcoming welfare shake-up set to cause a modern-day hysteria in an era of hard times for these times.

Jon and his children using the Ebenezer food drop-in service

Jon and his children using the Ebenezer food drop-in service

And, with the upcoming October government amendments to benefits, Calderdale Food Drop-In Centre predicts that many more, caught in the cross fire of cuts, will have to rely on food donations to see them through the week ahead.

Each week, over a hundred people living below £35 per week; or £25 per week for under 25s; receive food parcels donated from Calderdale churches.

On Saturday, eight newcomers in need of food came through the church doors within the first hour of opening at 10am.

Benefit sanctions are expected to cause bedlam to people already struggling on the poverty line. Stringent sanctions on people claiming Job Seekers Allowance will see benefits abruptly stopped for up to a month in the event of missed appointments or interviews.

Living below the £35 Food Drop-In eligibility for food parcels, are individuals and families in debt from previous government crisis loans; previous overpayment of benefit; council tax, rent and child support arrears; as well as expats returning from foreign countries.

Food Drop-In Centre volunteer Debbie Platts, 46, of Ovenden, said: “The interim period of benefit suspension is going to kill people who are already struggling to keep their head above the water.”

Debbie also highlighted money management problems that the adjustment of payment of benefits from weekly to monthly will create as well as the upheaval of the “bedroom tax” reform under the wider universal credit radical welfare shake-up.

Waiting outside the church, Jean Matthews, 74, of Brighouse, shared her son’s story. “Eight years ago, my son signed off Job Seekers Allowance to travel and work at a bar on an island in Thailand - as there was no work here in the UK. The business went bust; meaning my son also lost his home. He used his savings to live whilst looking for more work and when nothing materialised he came home.

“He’s been told he’s not entitled to a penny until he can prove he is not going to leave the country again. He’s had no guidance as to how to prove this; nor has he benn given an idea as to how long this could take.”

Jean’s 48-year-old son, who the welfare system deems a “non-habitual resident” is living between his mother’s and disabled sister’s; where he sleeps on the sofa. Without the food parcels, he would be in a real mess. I feel he is being punished for ever coming off of benefits to pursue work abroad.”

Karen Hardcastle, 49, of Halifax, volunteers her Saturday mornings to help out on the welcome desk. “The Food Drop-In Centre offers support above the basic necessity: we offer a continuation of support services that help people turn their lives around.

“Today, a lady came to tell me that we won’t be seeing her again as she has found employment.”

Karen explains that a whole host of people come through the chuch doors. “Some people use the service temporarily while others are long-term users; regardless, we understand people’s needs to make them feel welcome.”

37th through the church doors that day, father of two and a complication to the bureaucratic process, Jon Ayres, of Kings Cross, Halifax, queues up on the church steps every Saturday with his son, aged four, and daughter, aged three. Because Jon cares for his children for half of the week or less he is unable to claim child allowance and must exist entirely on a single person’s benefit entitlement.

“The bread, tins, toiletries, meat, cereal and milk from the food parcels means I can feed the kids while they’re in my care.”

Throughout the giving of the food parcels from 10-11:45am, coffee, tea, sandwiches, pastries and snacks donated from The Tower House Hotel, Halifax, are served over chats, support and advice.

Tower House manager Robert Oddy said: “Amidst economical hardship its everybody’s responsibility to put food in the bellies of the less fortunate. I don’t like to see food go to waste so our left-over function food is donated to the drop-in centre. If everyone gave that little bit more it would make a huge difference.”

Ahead of a turbulent welfare shake-up, we want more businesses to build on the current and consistent church and local business donations to ensure that those in need don’t go hungry in the 21st century.

Calderdale Food and Support Drop-In Centre need your help; through regular food donations - be it donation bins in the office or down the local pub - please initiate and encourage regular food donations and donate to the Calderdale Food and Support Drop-In Centre at the Ebenezer Church, Halifax.

For more information contact the Courier or gareth.ewing@bitcconnect.org