100 rely on food bank handouts in Todmorden

Management committee members Becki Archer-Quinn, left, and Rosie Bisop
Management committee members Becki Archer-Quinn, left, and Rosie Bisop

It has been revealed that upto 100 individuals and families use Todmorden Food Drop-in every week and organisers have warned the number will rise.

The food bank, which was set up in 2013, runs from St Mary’s crypt, St Mary’s Parish Church, and supplies food parcels to those in need every Saturday morning.

And in some cases, those who use the service have gone without food for up to two days.

Janet Garner, who leads the food bank, said: “It makes me furious and I feel desperately sad for those who have to come.

“It makes me angry, particularly when I see children and old people. There needs to be an engagement, people have to realise this is not a hidden group, they are normal, ordinary people.

“All the indicators show numbers are going to increase. We are seeing the effects of the last two governments’ policies, it’s because of a constant undermining of the benefits system and there is no longer a safety net for people who have fallen on hard times.

“We are clear that we are not the ‘big society’, this is a humanitarian response to the poverty crisis in this country.

“We don’t agree with means testing or limiting the number of times that a person can use our service. Our view is that our users face enough humiliating means testing already, without us adding to it.

“Our criteria is clear and everyone is interviewed but we take people on trust.

Limiting the number of times people can access help does not address the issue of long-term entrenched poverty, or the length of time that some benefits sanctions can last.

“Our experience has taught us that if people are treated with respect and trust then they won’t take advantage.

“The people we see can be any age, from 16 through to 80, and they’re all here simply because they don’t have a secure, liveable income. They are on zero hour contracts, they have had their disability or housing benefits changed, and they have had benefits sanctioned or suspended.”

And integral to the way the food bank operates is that each person choose what goes into their three-day parcel, a move Janet says gives people dignity.

She added that the food bank had met with little prejudice since opening its doors two years ago.

One Todmorden woman, who did not want to be named, turned to the food bank after she had been in hospital.

The 41-year-old said: “I was in hospital for about three months with mental health issues. I was homeless when I came out and was put into temporary accomodation.

“It was make or break for me. I found Todmorden Food Bank and I had to walk down because I didn’t have the bus fare. I felt so ashamed and thought ‘it’s really bad when you have to go to a foodbank’.

“But I didn’t feel like I was been questioned, it was just like having a chat and I was really put at ease. They go through the food list with you and I couldn’t believe I had a choice, it was amazing.

“I was overwhelmed and felt like I had made some friends. They really changed what my life could have been.”

Volunteers are currently needed for Wednesdays from 5pm to 7pm for bagging and packing food, and on Saturdays from 9am to 12.30pm for welcoming guests and putting together food parcels.

If you are interested please call Janet Garner on 07949 212464.

The food bank’s shopping list is around £1,300 per month - to support the service, standing order forms can be obtained from your bank or from Janet.

Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker added: “I know that many families are facing tough times as a result of the great recession of recent years. When people are struggling it is right that both Government and organisations in the community offer support.

“Unlike Labour, we have allowed Jobcentres to signpost people to food banks. We are also helping to provide emergency financial help to those in desperate need and tackling the real causes of poverty by getting people into work and tackling welfare dependency.

“The best way to help people support themselves and their families is to stick to our long term economic plan which is creating more jobs, so more people have the added security of a monthly pay packet that enables them to support themselves and their families.”

Additional research carried out by budgeting account provider Thinkmoney