The demand for Salvation Army food parcels is greater than ever as more families struggle to put food on the table.
Officers and volunteers have spent Christmas and the New Year handing out 40,000 Christmas presents to needy children and serving up over 17,500 hot dinners to older people.
Now the festive season is over, The Salvation Army is gearing up for one of the busiest times of the year. With the economic climate still looking bleak, 2012 will see even more people needing a helping hand – especially when it comes to food parcels.
Nearly 35,000 food parcels were handed out over December and January to the homeless, vulnerable and families – with The Salvation Army’s network of 700 churches (Corps) seeing a big increase on last year.
Lieutenant Joyce Baynes from The Salvation Army in Chesterfield has a regular food parcel ministry and distributes 40 parcels each Sunday.
Joyce said: “People tend to be living in vulnerable conditions such as sleeping on friends’ floors or in bed and breakfasts. The parcels give them very basic provisions for a day or so. These food parcels are a lifeline for some people and we will continue to provide them.
“We have one man currently who is homeless and sleeping out on the streets so we gave him food parcels over Christmas.
“We also get calls from agencies - most often mental health charities. These are more substantial food parcels to last around five days until people’s benefits kick in.
“We supported one particular family and one single woman for several weeks when their benefits were suspended. They were too ill to attend interviews and no one else would help them. We are in touch with their support workers to check their progress.”
As unemployment rises more people are coming onto benefits. The benefit system is undergoing many changes at the moment which will continue until the middle of 2013. This means that people often experience delays or errors in benefit payments that create an emergency in household finances and means they seek help with food. Some Salvation Army centres are responding to the growing frequency of requests by getting involved in food banks which monitor why people seek help and try to help them resolve the crisis.
Ray Irving, Territorial Social Services Secretary for The Salvation Army said: “The Salvation Army has a long history of offering practical support to people who are vulnerable or in need. We know that things are getting hard for people – especially with the cost of living rising and we are finding that more families, homeless, students and older people are coming to us for support. It’s fair to say that there is such a need for our service that some of our Churches are struggling to meet the demand.
“Our focus is on giving people a hand up, not a hand out and we can offer further support such as budgeting skills, help with finding a new job or providing a friendly ear to listen to concerns. We don’t judge or condemn. We just help.”
Territorial Envoy, Angela Nunn is a Salvation Army Church Leader (Officer) in North Scotland. In 2011 Angela had regular customers asking for food parcels – including people with addiction issues who were running out of money before the next benefit payment and had used up all their crisis loans.
Angela said: “I have encountered some lovely people with unbelievable stories. Some have had their benefits suspended for 10 weeks because they missed a medical, some claims have taken weeks to be processed – one person came out of prison with £60 in their pocket and spent a lot of it buying food on the 12 hour ferry journey home, leaving less to spend on food and electricity. An older gentleman wore three pairs of trousers because he couldn't afford heat while he was waiting for payment.
“Many people are struggling – especially the vulnerable and I am certain our work in this area will grow in 2012. The Salvation Army is definitely not just for Christmas!”
Since July 2011 Angela has been ensuring people get help with budget skills so that they don’t become too reliant on the service.
Major Sheila Dunkinson is Leader of The Salvation Army in York. She and her team of volunteers handed out 250 Christmas hampers - to families and individuals. She said: “Most of the families involved were facing a combination of difficulties related to ill-health, unemployment, social problems and some were at risk of homelessness. The referrals this year were up by over 100 food parcels and by nearly 130 Christmas presents as we handed out toys and stocking fillers to 230 children.”
Major Alison Gardner is Leader of The Salvation Army in Keighley. The team at Keighley handed out 526 food parcels to the homeless and those struggling to live on their benefits during December. She explained: “The debts of Christmas are catching up with people so I expect more to come to us from now on. Our food bank and soup kitchen have been very busy.
“Those people who have had benefits stopped and those made redundant or have had their hours cut are coming to us for food parcels. Doctors are even referring more people who are lacking in nutrition.
“On Christmas Eve we delivered 325 presents to 190 families with a food parcel containing enough food to last three days. These were requested by health visitors or schools.”
The food distributed in each food parcel is paid for by donations given to The Salvation Army churches (Corps), including some from other local churches. The Salvation Army churches (Corps) also fundraise throughout the year. Parcels are made up of non-perishable items such as tinned food and items such as bread, cheese and butter are kept in the freezer until needed. Parcels may also include basic toiletries and toilet paper. Some churches (Corps) made sure they included meat hampers for families over the Christmas break.
The Salvation Army doesn’t just offer food parcels – many churches (Corps) run lunch clubs, soup kitchens and drop-in groups where people can have a chat and a hot drink and snack. The team of staff and volunteers at Perth served up over 1065 cups of tea/coffee with a sandwich at lunchtimes over a five month period.