SOARING bills, benefit changes, and unemployment in austerity Britain have plunged some Lewisham and Greenwich families into food poverty. SARAH TROTTER visits Lewisham Food Bank which is fighting to feed the ‘hidden hungry’.
IT HAS only been going since late November last year, but already Lewisham Food Bank has helped feed 415 famished residents.
The team of 20 dedicated volunteers offer emergency three-day food parcels as well as a much-needed listening ear over a cup of tea at Malham Christian Centre.
The spacious hall, in Malham Road, Forest Hill, is open twice a week to help residents who find themselves in food crisis and need quick-fix emergency supplies.
Baked beans, tinned veg, meats and sponge puddings are some of the two tonnes of donated non-perishable foods carefully sorted by volunteers in the stuffed store room.
Bare cupboards can be fuelled by issues such as benefit delays, domestic abuse, or unemployment and the group is also there to signpost for further help.
Volunteer committee member Luke Aylward said: "There’s been a growing awareness country wide of hidden hunger.
"A typical example is a sudden bill or sudden job loss or benefit delay that puts you into short-term crisis and that if you give food, it alleviates that pressure and you can work out of that crisis.
"That is the whole aim as well as hopefully signposting people on."
The 25-year-old church youth worker says the support of local people donating food has been "brilliant" but the work so far is only scratching the surface of a far more widespread problem.
Mr Aylward, who lives in Beckenham, said: "We are scratching the surface – you just think we have been open three months and fed 415 people and that is starting with such a small number of voucher issuers – what is it going to be like when we get across the whole borough?
"What’s also been brilliant is the response of local people ringing up saying they want to volunteer and drop off food for us. It’s been simply fantastic.
"So many people are shocked that we have to be here – shocked that it is needed."
He added: "I am a middle-class boy and I have myself woken up to the reality of this. I think it is quite easy to sail on by sometimes and not realise."
Mr Aylwood joined co-committee member Saira Bohan-Croft to set up the food bank – following guidelines laid down by Christian charity Trussell Trust which identifies 13m people living below the poverty line in UK.
The volunteers have signed up around 80 charities, schools, churches, and businesses across the borough to give vulnerable individuals food vouchers. They aim to set up centres in central Lewisham, Downham and possibly Telegraph Hill.
Ms Bohan-Croft, 68, who lives in Stanstead Road, says individuals from all walks of life find themselves in need of the service with one man trekking from Deptford just to receive food.
The retired teacher said: "It isn’t just unskilled people but also intellectually qualified people.
"Young families who are getting the minimum benefits and this is just to supplement them.
"I wanted to make a difference. Use my management skills to assist people and through listening and pinpointing issues help them to open another possibility."
Lewisham Food Bank is open Wednesday 10am to 12pm and Friday 2pm to 4pm where people can drop in with food.
To find out how to get a voucher or to volunteer contact 020 8776 5050 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Food banks in Greenwich are active at churches in Plumstead, Thamesmead and Woolwich, to find out more email email@example.com
For more information on Trussell Trust and other food banks click here.