Food bank co-ordinator’s heart-breaking stories of people fighting the poverty trap
Caroline Marsland says she can have anyone she speaks to in tears within eight minutes.
Every day, the Food For Thought co-ordinator hands out food parcels to hungry people in desperate need across the communities of Dumbarton and Alexandria.
A man forced to walk six miles for a meal after his benefits were sanctioned, a mother left with nothing after fleeing abuse, and a tearful dad devastated because he can’t afford to feed his family - these harrowing stories lay bare the dire situation in West Dunbartonshire which Caroline fears will get even worse when new benefits system, Universal Credit, is rolled out next year.
In May, Food For Thought started up its Community Soup initiative giving out free lunches twice a week to those needing fed or craving company.
One man from Rosshead has been walking six miles to the Dumbarton church from his home and back every Wednesday and Thursday for the past eight weeks while he has no benefits having been sanctioned.
And he will continue to do so at least until his benefits are up and running again just so he has had some food on those days.
Sadly, a massive portion of the referrals Food For Thought receive from the 58 agencies which they work with come through on a Friday afternoon with people at risk of going hungry all weekend.
And that is why the service runs at all hours of the day to make sure that people aren’t punished because they are going hungry at the wrong times.
Reverend Kenny Macaulay, rector at St Augustine’s told us: “There have been times when our volunteers have had to go out at 2am when we’ve got a call from police that someone is in temporary accommodation because they escaped domestic abuse and have absolutely nothing. It’s so important, especially if they’ve got a baby, to get to them quickly.”
Caroline added: “People are only finding out on a Friday afternoon their benefits aren’t there when they go to the Post Office. They will then phone crisis loans or somebody else and they will refer them here otherwise they’re going to have no food over the weekend.
“With Universal Credit coming in, it’s going to get to the point where we can’t facilitate the need. People are going to struggle because of the amount of time it takes for people to get assessed and the fact people aren’t used to getting a monthly wage.”
Food For Thought gives out 191017FREE_LUNCHES_004 emergency aid to around 50 people every week and with approximately 35 getting their lunch served to them each Wednesday and Thursday, they are feeding 120 people every single week.
Speaking about providing lunches to those who are hungry or those who may not have any other human contact that day, Caroline said: “We knew the need was there but we didn’t expect the numbers.”
The Fair Food Transformation Fund gave the charity the money to run Community Soup and Marks and Spencer in Dumbarton chose the organisation as its charity of the year, providing ingredients for the soup, bread and rolls served each week.
However the funding is only up until the end of March next year. Kenny said: “Where we get money after that we don’t know.
“Does the crisis we face in March frighten me? It gives me cause for concern but the way the community has responded in the past, I have got faith.
“The whole Food For Thought project has always been a project where we wonder where the next month’s funding is coming from. We are always on the edge.
“There are a lot of people in West Dunbartonshire who are paddling, some who are sinking and some who have sunk.
“People take a view that as long as they are out of sight, they are out of mind. Tackling that’s a big part of this project and a big part of what we do.
“We like to put a smile on their faces and show that somebody cares for them. We try to give people a bit of dignity back in their lives.”
The modest food package handed out to those in crisis consists of basic ingredients for three days worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners for a single person but it will be supplemented with more food if there are additional people in the family.
It will also be supplemented by feminine hygiene products if there are females in the family or with nappies and formula if babies are involved.
Kenny added: “The saddest thing is seeing fathers who have managed to look after their family and feed them and care for them suddenly put in a position where they’re having to come to a foodbank for the first time in their lives with tears running down their cheeks because they feel like they are total failures. It breaks my heart.
“I like to think people come to St Augustine’s for a family with welcoming arms, not just Food For Thought or lunches, but if people have got a need of any sort, we cater for them.
“There’s no strings attached.”
Dire need Caroline Marsland with a vital food