Hartlepool foodbank chiefs reveal surge in food donations after national paper backlash

Hartlepool Food Bank has reached its target and will open for business at its Church Street premises today (TUES). Volunteers Andrew Milner 9left) and Al Wales at work in the store room.
Hartlepool Food Bank has reached its target and will open for business at its Church Street premises today (TUES). Volunteers Andrew Milner 9left) and Al Wales at work in the store room.

FOODBANK chiefs revealed there has seen a surge in donated food – but could not say whether the rise was due to criticism outraging supporters.

Al Wales, co-ordinator of Hartlepool Foodbank, said the amount of food given by generous members of the public was “good”.

But she could not say whether any extra items were donated because of sympathy over criticism in a national newspaper that food parcels were being handed out to those did not really need them, despite similar rises elsewhere

And Al wanted to re-iterate that they carry out stringent checks on the people gives hand-outs to, to ensure that they always get to those who need them most.

She said: “We have had a good days worth of donations, some very large ones after the weekend, but we don’t know if it is in response to the criticism of foodbanks or not.

“A lot of churches collect regularly in the town anyway, and with it being over Easter we would have had extra support from them as well.

“The criticism was that anyone can go and get food parcels has generated a lot of response from people frustrated about it.

“We work really, really, well with agencies in town and we are very comprehensive in the checks that we make. People can be confident in donating to us because the food is going to the right people, the people who are in crisis.”

She added: “You’ll always get people who take advantage of everything, but we take it really seriously so people do not need to worry about donating to us. Also, it takes a lot of courage for someone to walk into a food bank so such criticism is entirely unhelpful really.”

The issue of foodbanks across the UK hit the headlines last week when it was reported that more than one million people have sought handout help in the last 12 months.

It sparked confusion in parliament when Prime Minister David Cameron backed the schemes, only for Iain Duncan Smith to appear to be critical of the need for handouts and the number of people eligible for food parcels.

And a national newspaper reporter claimed to have been given a foodbank voucher without any checks on his background.

Despite the controversy, Al thanked everyone who has donated, supported and volunteered to help the foodbank in Hartlepool since the launch.

And she is encouraging the town to continue that show of support and to keep backing the foodbank after a rise in the number of poverty-stricken families requiring help.

She said the numbers had increased in line with national trends of an extra 50 per cent of parcels being handed out in the last year, but said that could be down to extra voucher-holders now available in the town.

The number of hard-up East Durham people being forced into to taking food handouts has rocketed by almost 60 per cent – with the number expected to reach triple figures by the end of the year.

East Durham Trust’s Food Emergency East Durham scheme has hit “an all-time peak”, according to trust chief executive Malcolm Fallow, with 79 food hand-outs dispatched to people in dire straits in a week recently.

The distribution centre for Hartlepool Foodbank, based at 28 Church Street, opens on a Tuesday and Friday, from 11.30am-1.30pm where people can donate their non-perishable food items.

Hartlepool’s Tesco supermarket in Burn Road is also a permanent collection point while Asda, in Marina Way, is also happy to take donations.

Al said the foodbank process is very dignified and said the aim is not to make people dependent on the foodbank but to help those in crisis.

GPs, social workers, church leaders and the JobCentre all hand out vouchers to those in need, which provide a package with enough produce to last for three days.

To contact the foodbank, which was opened in October 2012, or to arrange collections for significant amounts of food, call (01429) 598404.