A COMMUNITY food project has moved to a bigger base as demand for its support soars.
The Wansbeck Valley Food Bank was launched in December 2012 after local churches noticed more people coming to them for help.
They set up a service based on referrals from GPs, health visitors, Citizens’ Advice Bureaux (CAB) and welfare professionals to provide emergency food packs for people in need.
Parcels were initially distributed from the Holy Sepulchre Church in Ashington. The New Life Christian Centre in Morpeth quickly followed, and a warehouse was set up at the former Ashington Co-op building. In May St Bartholomew’s Church in Newbiggin joined in and, between them, the centres are now open five days a week.
Demand for the service has steadily increased and from around ten referrals in January last year, there were almost 100 in December.
The bulk of beneficiaries are from Ashington, followed closely by Morpeth. Recipients have also come from Pegswood, Newbiggin, Choppington, Lynemouth and Widdrington.
Project Manager Linda Fugill said: “People tend to think Morpeth is quite affluent, but we get a lot of referrals.
“We always knew there was a need for this, but we didn’t realise how much, and I think there is still quite a lot of people that we aren’t reaching. Some might not know about us, but there is also a lot of reluctance to ask for help.
“It is easy for people to use the food bank. If they are at the CAB for benefit or debt problems, they can be referred to the food bank. They then come to a distribution centre with the form and get the food. They don’t have to jump through hoops.
“We do get people coming without the form, but they do need a referral. People are so generous in donating food so we need to make sure it goes to those in need.”
As a result of the increasing demand for the service, the warehouse has now moved to the New Life Christian Centre. The room is 50 per cent bigger than the former base, and with the addition of shelving courtesy of Allan Simm, of Morpeth Welders, the storage space has doubled.
However, it has meant a re-shuffle at the Morpeth church.
Minister Mike Willis said: “The warehouse is in what was originally a crèche and a quiet meeting room. As well as the crèche, we had a computer suite, but we found that both were being under-utilised. The crèche has now moved into the church office, which has moved into the computer room.
“The warehouse was great when we started, but it was on the first floor of an old building so it wasn’t ideal and we needed more room.
“My focus has always been to make sure the New Life Christian Centre is used and now we have made room for a really good project. Everything we do is to try to make the project sustainable. I think the need for food banks will be here for a long time.”
Volunteer Rhona Dunn said: “It will be much easier having the warehouse here. It gives us a lot more flexibility and a lot of the volunteers are from the Morpeth area so it will be easier for them.”
Morpeth businessman Paul Taylor, who owns Castle Carpets, has provided new flooring for the centre.
He said: “I came along and measured up and decided that I would just give the flooring and the services of the fitters free to help out as much as I could. I think it’s important to help the community.”
The food bank is always grateful for donations of tinned or dry food, as well as toiletries and essentials. Volunteers are also welcome.