HELP is now at hand for Morpeth residents in need as food parcels are dished out.
The Wansbeck Food Bank began in Ashington last year to help people in financial crisis, and now the scheme has spread to Morpeth.
The initiative is being organised by up to 30 churches of all denominations across south-east Northumberland to respond to increasing requests for help.
People will be given enough food to last three or four days and they can apply for assistance three times.
Minister Mike Willis, of the New Life Christian Centre in Dacre Street, said: “It is food provided locally for local people.
“People are going hungry in our county and even in our individual streets.
“Perhaps people don’t talk about it so much in Morpeth, but the needs are there.
“I feel that with some of the things going on at the moment, like changes to benefits and tax credits, working families might find that the money is not going to stretch far enough.
“These are the people I worry about. You hear stories of parents feeding their children, but going without food themselves.
“It might not be that widespread here, but it is happening and that is a travesty.
“We just want to help people who are hungry.”
The scheme is currently operating through a referral system from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) and Barnabas Safe and Sound, with food distributed from the New Life Christian Centre.
“The idea is that the food goes to those most in need so we are working with CAB to start with, then from there we can roll it out to other professionals,” said Mr Willis.
“You read about kids going to school and not being able to work hard because they are hungry so it would be useful if headteachers could refer families to us, then there are doctors and health visitors who could spot the signs of people in need.
“If they feel that somebody could benefit from our service then they could issue a voucher and the people will come to us to collect their food.
“The good thing is that it is in shopping bags so it doesn’t come in a box saying ‘food bank’ and there is no stigma attached. It is particularly useful that we are next to a supermarket as people coming from the church with shopping bags isn’t unusual.”
Work to set up Northumberland’s first food bank began last year, but there has been legal work, confidentiality issues and other red tape to resolve before the parcels could be handed out.
Now, the scheme is fully under way and Mr Willis hopes more people will come forward to use it.
“The main thing now is for people to become aware of it and know where to go for help,” he said.
“I think it is going to be harder to reach people in Morpeth because it is supposed to be
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an affluent town, but I would rather people got in touch than go hungry and try to struggle on.
“We have heard of situations where benefits have been stopped and it could be a couple of weeks before people get more money so we need to bridge the gap.
“The typical cases are where people have perhaps had a disability benefit and it has been stopped because they have to apply for another type of benefit and there has been a gap. Another situation is where somebody could have left their job to become a full-time carer, but the money runs out from their wages before their allowance kicks in.”
Although the food bank is run by the churches, Mr Willis has stressed that it is open to people of all religious faiths and none.
He said: “For us as a church it is an important part of our ministry to tackle social isolation and feed the hungry, but we want to help people regardless of their religious views.
“People can just come in and pick up a bag, there will be no lectures and we don’t want people to level the charge that they have been brought to us under false pretences. It is just about providing food.”
A food drive recently took place at Asda in Ashington, where customers were invited to donate tins for the project, and it is hoped more could be held in Morpeth two or three times a year.
Donations are also being accepted in local churches and pupils at Chantry Middle School organised a collection.
Items required are UHT or powdered milk, sugar, cartons of fruit juice, soup, pasta sauces, cereal, tea bags, instant coffee, instant mash, rice, pasta, jam and biscuits or snack bars, as well as tins of meat, fish, sponge pudding, tomatoes, rice pudding and fruit.
“We will take food from anywhere and anyone is welcome to get involved,” said Mr Willis.
The food bank is also seeking a volunteer project manager who can deal with volunteers and the public, understand issues around food and help with administration.
Anyone who can help, or who wants further information about the Wansbeck Food Bank, should contact Mr Willis on 01670 511778.