Poverty in Falkirk: People turn down turkeys from food banks as too expensive to cook

Food bank volunteers were shocked when people refused turkeys to feed their families on Christmas Day because they could not afford to cook them.

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th January 2022, 12:44 pm

They said that it would cost too much in gas and electricity charges and they would rather have something they could heat up in a microwave.

Others admitted that they didn’t even have a cooker but relied on a microwave and kettle to make hot meals.

Across the district, charities providing food parcels have noticed a steep increase in the number of people seeking their help.

The demand for support from food banks has risen across the district

They said in the run-up to the festive period and in the first weeks in January the level of referrals and people asking for help is the highest it has been.

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While some cases are those who are forced to self-isolate after contracting Covid or being a close contact and unable to go out to shops, many others are people who have to choose whether to keep a roof over their heads or eat.

Arlene Graham, chairperson of ROOTS Helping Hands Food Share, said: “We have seen an increase in the numbers seeking help who are self isolating and not able to go to work or go to the shops, but there are many who are facing benefit cuts and it is very concerning.

The work of Kersiebank Community Project has been supported by the community, seen here last January getting a new vehicle from Alex Dillon of Foundry Steels in Grangemouth

"Those getting in touch with us are all ages, from young people to pensioners, but they all need help.

"However, it’s not just people on benefits but those who are trying to just scrape by every week. It is cases of working poverty.”

ROOTS was set up almost three years ago as a non-profit organisation to serve the communities in Bonnybridge, Denny and Banknock. Starting with a cupboard in the community centre, it now has premises in Foundry Road, and has a core of around 11 volunteers but more people are coming forward to offer help, including some Duke of Edinburgh Award students.

ROOTS Helping Hands Food Share volunteers with their new van to help with deliveries in March last year. Funded from Denny and District Community Fund, administered by Foundation Scotland. Front: Jennifer Cochrane, secretary; Teresa Cochrane, treasurer and Gemma Douglas, parcel coordinator. Back: Arlene Graham, chairperson; Sheralee Maxwell, parcel coordinator and Scott Douglas, handyman driver.

Arlene added: “We are finding that we now have to ask people if they have the means to cook the food that we are giving them. Often they will say it is only a microwave and kettle so then we have to ensure that what we give them is suitable for them.

"We are very grateful for all the support that we get from individuals, organisations and supermarkets such as Aldi. They are all very good to us but as the demand grows, we are always looking for support.”

At Kersiebank Community Project based in Grangemouth’s La Porte Precinct the volunteers were shocked when people turned down the chance of a turkey saying it would cost too much to cook it.

Alastair Blackstock, chairman of Falkirk Foodbank, says demand for food parcels has grown in recent weeks

A spokesperson said: “We offered them a turkey and when people asked how long it would have to go in the oven and we said a couple of hours, they said no thanks and they’d rather have something that cooked in minutes in the microwave.

"We are definitely seeing more people than usual. Some is those who are having to self-isolate but others are just struggling to get by over Christmas.

"There’s also about a dozen pensioners with health issues that we help because they are too scared to go out with the high number of Covid cases about.

"We try to give people food that will provide a varied diet and we are having to buy food to ensure that we can do that.

"Our supporters, including Bookers Cash and Carry, are very good to us providing lots of tins and long life foods. There were also lots of donations over Christmas which were very welcome.”

They added that previously a normal day would see them helping 30 people with a food parcel, but since the start of January this had increased by about one third every day.

"It's certainly a really difficult time for a lot of people.”

Falkirk’s first food bank was set up in December 2012 and the following year Alastair Blackstock became a volunteer. Now the chairman of Falkirk Foodbank, based in Tamfourhill Industrial Estate, he has seen a steady rise in the number of people being referred for help.

However, as demand grows so does the generosity of the charities supporters.

Latest figures show that in the 12 months up to April last year, 7555 people, including 2695 children, received a parcel with five days food.

In the week before Christmas they made over 150 deliveries of food parcels, one day alone doing 52. Last Thursday they did 57 deliveries as the requests for help came in.

Alastair said: “Since we came back after New Year it has been very, very busy – almost double what we would usually expect.

"Those being referred are across the spectrum: families, single people, those who have lost their job. We probably don’t see as many elderly people as probably need help but often they don’t want to ask.

"We give five days food in each parcel as we think that gets them over the hump and means they perhaps won’t have to come back.”

Three times every year, in conjunction with Tesco and The Trussell Trust, Falkirk Foodbank holds food collections in the supermarket which always brings in lots of much-needed donations.

However, last year due to the social distancing guidelines, the volunteers collecting were not allowed to approach shoppers nor hand out suggested shopping lists.

Although delighted at the 13,702 meals donated, Alastair said this was down on previous years.

"We are very grateful to the stores for keeping us going with donations and Malcolm Allan is also a big supporter. There are also regular donations from many churches across the district – there is always someone looking out for us. But as we are experiencing the need is always growing.”

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