Feeding the 5000 is Falkirk community miracle

Falkirk Round Table present �3000 cheque to Falkirk Food Bank
Falkirk Round Table present �3000 cheque to Falkirk Food Bank

Charity workers have reached an unpalatable milestone they would rather never have arrived at.

The 5000th client accessed aid from Falkirk Foodbank at the end of February, just 14 months since the organisation was launched in this area, initially by members of 10 church congregations.

But those behind it said their work providing aid when needed by people in their darkest hour was bittersweet.

There are also concerns that the situation of individuals and families needing the three day’s worth of supplies of nutritionally balanced food will only spiral due to welfare benefit changes.

However, communities who have rallied round to help those less fortunate have been praised for their efforts.

Last week, MSPs heard that the use of foodbanks across Scotland had quadrupled in less than a year.

Ewan Gurr from the Trussell Trust, the organisation behind foodbanks in the UK, said they had been used by 14,318 people in 2012/13. But between April 1, 2013 and February 24 this year, 56,052 people used one of their foodbanks.

Giving evidence to a Scottish Parliament committee, he said the main factor for the rapid rise in demand for emergency food relief was welfare reform.

This was a point echoed by the Rev. Stuart Sharp of Camelon Parish Church, who is chairman of Falkirk Foodbank board of trustees.

He said: “We hoped we’d never reach the figure of 5000, but it is the reality of the environment we find ourselves in and the changing circumstances so many people have experienced.

“While it is a privilege to find ourselves in a position to help so many people, we have only been able to do that because of the generosity of the people of Falkirk who have supported the foodbank and its work. Without them, we couldn’t exist.”

Falkirk Foodbank also has the unwanted distinction of being the second busiest of all similar ventures throughout Scotland, only being beaten to the top spot by Dundee.

Mr Sharp added: “There are real areas of need within the Falkirk local authority area. What we have learned from the past year is not to judge a book by its cover. We have to see behind the superficial and look at the real needs that people have.

“Hopefully, the more people become aware of the work of the foodbank, the more they will understand why we are needed. Those we deal with never asked to be in the position they find themselves, its all to do with circumstances.

“Unfortunately, the draconian changes to the welfare benefits system mean many people have nowhere else to turn to but the foodbank.”

Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald said it was an “absolute scandal” over 56,000 Scots had to ask for help to put food on their family’s table.

He said: “It is no surprise that the Trussell Trust has found benefit delays and changes are behind at least half of all foodbank referrals. Last month, a report from Citizen’s Advice Scotland also pointed to changes to the benefit system as the reason for increasing use.

“I have visited the local foodbank myself and met with Alf Collington who is organising the excellent work carried out by volunteers. I am impressed with the work they do and the number of families they assist.”

At the end of last year it was revealed Falkirk Foodbank received a grant for £73,209 from the Big Lottery Fund which should meet operating costs for the next two years.