I was honoured to be invited to open formally the foodbank in Hartlepool last week.
The facility, based in Church Street, is impressive and both friendly and professional.
Friends and volunteers of the foodbank provide an excellent service and at the event last week there was a buzz and friendly energy about the place.
I am confident that anybody who unfortunately, by falling on hard times, has to use the service, can be assured of a good cup of tea, a bit of excellent corned beef pie and the chance, if needed, to have a confidential chat.
I’ve known the chairman of the Hartlepool Foodbank, Clive Hall, for many years, and I know he and other volunteers are passionately committed to helping their fellow Hartlepudlians.
As I said at the opening ceremony, I’ve got mixed feelings about the foodbank in Hartlepool.
On the one hand, it shows the enduring quiet generosity of the people of the town. Hartlepool doesn’t want a fuss, but will go out of its way to help its fellow citizens who may be suffering from hardship.
Since the foodbank was set up in operation about six months ago, well over 1,000 parcels have been distributed.
At a recent event in supermarkets to encourage people to donate tins, cans or packets, more was donated in Hartlepool than any other place in the country.
Hartlepool’s enduring, unique asset is its people and facts like that show how fantastic, generous and socially committed the people of our town are.
But, on the other hand, isn’t it a disgrace, in one of the richest countries on earth, that people in Hartlepool are having to resort to a foodbank?
What sort of country are we becoming if the Government cannot provide a minimum welfare state that ensures that people can eat?
You hear a lot in the media about benefit scroungers and fiddlers and people on benefits who are enjoying foreign holidays, new cars and flat screen tellies.
I’m not so naive as to suggest that no fraud goes on, but if the welfare system is that generous, why is there a need to help people to eat?
Rising unemployment, spiralling food and energy bills, as well as changes such as the bedroom tax, mean that many people in the town are having to choose between eating and heating.
People fall on hard times for many reasons. Unemployment, marital separation or a whole host of things. It doesn’t take long before people need help.
I don’t wish to see the foodbank in operation for very long because it is a terrible indictment of where this country is heading and how living standards are slipping if foodbanks are necessary.
People can’t just turn up to receive the food. People are identified by professionals like doctors, health visitors and Citizens Advice Bureau staff or the police as in need and issued with a foodbank voucher. People then take their voucher to Church Street where it can be exchanged for three days of emergency food rations.
All food donated in Hartlepool is kept in Hartlepool to help Hartlepool families. None of the food goes out of the town. I know times are tough for many people in the town and that food prices are rising, but if you could see your way, in your next shop, to perhaps buy an extra tin or can or packet of pasta to help another family in the town, please do so. Asda has a facility where donations can be dropped off in store.
The foodbank itself in Church Street is open between 11.30 am and 1.30 pm every Tuesday and Friday for people to drop off donations. I am sure that the foodbank will be enormously grateful. The people of Hartlepool have shown their generosity time and time again – I am sure you will continue to do so.