Last Friday I spent some time with volunteers from the Hartlepool Food Bank as they collected donations from members of the public in Tesco.
It’s a sad and tragic state of affairs in Britain in 2015 that many people have to rely on food banks in order to have food to eat.
Food banks have grown in use in recent years. This is not because, as some people, including some government ministers, have suggested that free food is always going to get people queuing up to take advantage.
The rise of food banks is based upon people being unable to afford to pay for the basics in life like food.
It is not as if anybody can just pop down to the food bank as and when they like and pick up free groceries because they can’t be bothered to pay for their food that week.
Care professionals such as doctors, health visitors and the police identify people in crisis and in real need and issue food bank vouchers.
People then take that voucher to the food bank where it can be swapped for three days’ emergency food.
Volunteers in Hartlepool offer a cup of tea and a chat and – crucially – help to signpost people to agencies that can go some way towards solving the fundamental problem of not having enough income to eat.
I want to pay tribute to Hartlepool’s food bank coordinator, Al Wales and volunteers who attended the event at Tesco over a couple of days last week. All the food that is collected in Hartlepool is used to help families in Hartlepool.
Last year, Hartlepool food bank supplied a total of 2,452 food parcels, feeding over 4,500 people in the town. Of those people receiving help, 1,252 were under the age of 17.
But as I spent time in Tesco with the food bank volunteers, the biggest thing to strike me was the generosity of the Hartlepool people.
Of course, a few people walked past, but the willingness of most people to reach out and help was humbling and astonishing. Many people gave a couple of tins of food.
What was truly amazing was how many people provided whole carrier bags full to the brim of groceries. Several people had entire trollies full of food which they wanted to donate.
Nobody wanted praise or glory for these donations – they simply wanted to help their fellow Hartlepudlian in their moment of need and despair.
Selina Wilson, Tesco’s Community Champion in Hartlepool, said that the amount, volume and value of donations in the town’s store was second in the North East only to their store at Kingston Park in Newcastle, which has a much more affluent customer. It shows genuinely how Hartlepool are a breed apart with their modesty and generosity.
In an hour, 15 large food crates had been filled. This and the other crates filled over the course of the couple of days will go a huge way to helping people in Hartlepool suffering a true crisis.
Despite the great success over the last week, the need for donations goes on and so I hope that you can provide some help, based on what you can afford, to help others in the town.