Food banks have rarely been out of the headlines in recent months. Here, Mail reporter Mark McKay takes a deeper look into how they operate and who is responsible for ensuring those in need don’t have to go without.
THE stairs leading upstairs in the flat were bare, as were the walls and floor.
A young slim man had let the three of us inside to deliver a food parcel from Burton’s Salvation Army.
Hopefully, the four bags would provide enough sustenance for the man and his family for the next week, but if not, the charity would never turn away anyone in need.
This was the first of two deliveries on what had to be one of the quieter nights for the charity in recent months.
The Salvation Army delivered 109 parcels in March, while Burton’s YMCA handed out 314 in the first three months of 2014 – between them, that’s about seven parcels every day.
My evening with the Salvation Army had begun at the its church in Mosley Street where I was met by Major Jane Morris, who takes a lead role in organising the charity’s emergency food operation.
In a back room of the church there are, cupboards packed tins of beans, vegetables, soup and packs of pasta and cereal.
It is a site which perhaps gave a false impression of the charity’s ability to cope with demand.
The donations come from major organisations in the town, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Kerry Foods to name a few, as well as from individuals.
Jane said the charity’s role is to act as a collection point for donations, which are then distributed to the neediest in the town.
“We are hugely grateful to the people of Burton and Uttoxeter,” she said.
“Without them we simply could not operate. We are just the link in the chain, we try to do a good job.
“But without the good will of the people it could not work.”
This evening, a team of five volunteers pack the parcels from a list of what each should include based on nutritional guidelines.
Each will include a carton of UHT milk and sugar and as a result these are always in short supply, as are jam, coffee and tinned meat and fish.
From the companies which donate food to the good will of the volunteers to deliver it, the Salvation Army food bank is very much a community effort, said Jane.
She said she had seen demand rise from two parcels in her first week in 2011, to what it is today.
While some say demand has risen as a result of welfare reforms, others put the rise down to media attention and awareness about food banks.
But Jane said the Salvation Army does not discriminate or judge the people who rely on them for help, whatever their back story.
“To be honest, the statistics speak for themselves,” she said.
“There will always be people who take advantage, but for the vast majority of people, it takes an awful lot of courage and desperation to come and ask for help.
“People are in desperate circumstances, sometimes their benefits have changed, sometimes they have been in hospital. The bottom line is that they are without food.
“Whatever the rights and wrongs, if people are without food then they can come here, but we rely on the generosity of the Burton public.”
It is a sentiment echoed by Isabelle Griffiths, one of the Salvation Army’s loyal volunteers who give up their time each week to make the parcels.
“The community supports us and we support the community,” she said.
“Welfare reforms have had an impact. The majority are benefit related in some way or another whether it’s sickness or Jobseeker’s Allowance.
“But we are helping them while they get back into the workplace. Nothing the Salvation Army can say or do would reduce the number of food banks.”
Ultimately, the Salvation Army, supported with the good will of the Burton community, provides a safety net to ease the pressure on those most in need.
“People are actually being fed with nourishing food,” Isabelle said.
“We are giving them a bit of relief, time and space so they can sort themselves out and to show that the community cares for them.”
The Salvation Army collects for its food bank at businesses across Burton.
It has a donation box in Sainbury’s, in Union Street, where items can be dropped off.
Anyone who would like to find out more about the Salvtion Army’s work can visit its church in Mosley Street.