Charity launches call for help to find suitable premises

The co-ordinators for the three food distribution centres  Karen Butchart (Ellon), Fiona Cooper (Inverurie) and Linda MacGregor (Huntly) with Jeannie Price (second from the left).
The co-ordinators for the three food distribution centres  Karen Butchart (Ellon), Fiona Cooper (Inverurie) and Linda MacGregor (Huntly) with Jeannie Price (second from the left).

A food bank in Aberdeenshire North has seen demand for its supplies increase as more and more families struggle to make ends meet.

It is handing out 60 parcels each fortnight to hungry locals in the area and as a result, organisers have launched an urgent call for a permanent base to help cope with the demand.

Aberdeenshire North Foodbank began in 2012 under the auspices of Garioch Church in central Aberdeenshire.

A couple called Stephen and Barbara King, who live in Barthol Chapel, began a foodbank as a means of providing practical help to people in need in their community. They approached the Trussell Trust for support in 2014 and went on to open the first food distribution centre in Inverurie that year, followed by centres in Huntly and Ellon.

Aberdeenshire North Foodbank is a SCIO (became an independent charity in August 2015), but it sits under the umbrella of the Trussell Trust, the biggest national network of foodbanks in the UK.

Jeannie Price, foodbank manager, explained what services are offered: “Aberdeenshire North Foodbank provides emergency food parcels to individuals and families experiencing crisis,” she said.

“We work with over 90 professionals across the health and social care spectrum, who issue vouchers on our behalf and we give people a minimum of three days’ worth of non-perishable food. Each food parcel enables someone to have breakfast, lunch and an evening meal, as well as snacks, over a three day period at least.

“The charity employs one part-time member of staff and relies on a loyal cohort of over 50 volunteers to run its centres and warehouse. The charity doesn’t receive any statutory funding so every penny required to keep it operational, they must raise themselves.”

Aberdeenshire North Foodbank covers everywhere from Inverurie up to the Banff and Buchan coast, an area of 1800 square miles – taking in Ellon, Fraserburgh, Deeside/Donside, Stonehaven and Mearns. There may also be other small, independent foodbanks in the area.

There are also Trussell Trust foodbanks in south Aberdeenshire (based in Banchory) and in Aberdeen City.

Jeannie continued: “We currently have three food distribution centres – Inverurie, Ellon and Huntly – to which individuals who have been given a foodbank voucher, can exchange it for a food parcel.

“This is made up according to the number of individuals in the household. As well as the food distribution centres, we can provide referral partner agencies with a small number of pre-packed emergency food boxes. These are for situations where it is not possible for the client to personally come in to a foodbank.”

Jeannie said they don’t currently have a foodbank centre in Peterhead. Since the closure of a large, independent church-based foodbank in Peterhead in December 2016, she said they have seen a steady growth in requests for food parcels for clients, from agencies and professionals working in the town.

She said they began making pre-packed emergency food boxes available via The Foyer in the town’s Kirk Street at the start of the year, but this has now escalated to a point where they are sending an average of 60 parcels a fortnight up to Peterhead.

Jeannie continued: “Finding suitable premises in Peterhead will enable us to provide a much better service for those in need, as we do already at our other centres.

“As well as being able to offer extra items such as toiletries, cleaning products, sanitary products and even pet food, crucially, we can signpost people to other services that may be of benefit to them. Our volunteers will welcome anyone with a voucher and have a chat while another volunteer makes up the food parcel.

“Having premises of our own would allow us to set up a proper foodbank with locally recruited volunteers. People wishing to donate food could drop off their donations there too. We only offer non-perishable foodstuffs at the moment – for a variety of reasons, insurance and physical space at our foodbank centres being two of them.”

She added: “What would be ideal is a low cost or even no cost building, or a share of a building, with some storage space we can shelve, a small reception area where folk can wait and have a cuppa with the volunteers.

“We also need good access for clients and volunteers or good parking for vehicles bringing in crates of food or donations.”

Anyone who can help is asked to email: Jeannie at jprice@aberdeenshirenorth.foodbank.org.uk

Increase in demand for food

Since Aberdeenshire North Food Bank was first established in 2012, the number of adults and children using the service has doubled. Jeannie said figures they have collated and given to the Trussell Trust have shown that demand has grown year on year – in 2014 the total number of vouchers issued was 536 and the total number of adults and children fed was 1135.

In 2015 780 vouchers were issued and number of adults and children supplied with food was 1835. But in 2016, the figures revealed demand continued to rise with 1131 vouchers given out and the total number of adults and children fed was 2325. Jeannie said: “The main reasons for people being referred to the food bank are benefit delays, benefit changes, debt and increasingly, low income, where the household is in work but struggling to make ends meet. Reasons for the increase in demand across the board are varied. Increased awareness of the foodbank may account for some of it – more people know where to turn for help. We have also grown the number of professionals and agencies working with us, assessing someone’s need and issuing vouchers.”

As well as searching for a permanent base, Jeannie said they are also looking for their own vehicle. She said: “It would be great to have a van of our own that we could use to pick up food donations from the various churches and supermarkets that collect food for us or deliver food boxes to the centres. At the moment we rely on volunteers and their vehicles.”

The food bank will be holding a food collection in store in Morrisons, Peterhead, on Friday, December 8, from 10am to 4pm. This will not only allow people to donate food, but also find out more about the charity.