Feed a Family This Christmas: Express & Star launches campaign to support food banks
From single mothers sending their children to school knowing there is nothing in the cupboard for tea to workers who have suddenly found themselves out of a job - food banks are providing a vital lifeline in our communities.
Many are seeing the number of people turning to them for help continue to rise with unemployment, changes to benefits and low wages all playing a part as they struggle to make ends meet.
And, at this time of year, many are also faced with the heart-breaking choice of either putting food on the table or heating their home.
But help is on hand as thousands of emergency food parcels and meals have been handed out across the Black Country and Staffordshire by food banks and other charities during the past year.
And today the Express & Star is launching the Feed A Family This Christmas appeal, for the second year running, to support their valuable work.
Thanks to the generosity of our readers, the appeal was a huge success last year collecting 9,000 items for food banks, the homeless and children at The Haven refuge.
From today until December 16, we are collecting contributions of non-perishable food and toiletries as well as socks and hats.
The good causes we will be supporting again this year are The Well (Home of Wolverhampton Food Bank), the Good Shepherd Ministry, based in Wolverhampton, the Black Country Food Bank, which has centres across Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall, Smethwick Food Bank, Walsall North Food Bank and Cannock and District Food Bank.
The appeal will also be supporting The Haven which provides both practical and emotional support services to women and children who are affected by domestic violence and homelessness.
Former Emmerdale star Lisa Riley, who will be appearing in Jack and The Beanstalk at Wolverhampton Grand, is backing the Express & Star's campaign.
"I think this is fantastic. There are so many people who need a lot. We can come together as a community and do that extra bit for people even if it's tin of beans," she said.
All of the organisations that will benefit from Feed A Family This Christmas are helping individuals and families in need every day.
"From my experience the most distressing calls we take from people who need a food parcel are from mums who have run out of food and can’t feed their children.
"I have taken countless calls from mums who have sent their children to school knowing there is nothing in the cupboard for tea and one mum called me very upset explaining that she only had a jelly left," says Jen Coleman, office manager at the Black Country Food Bank.
It saw a 12 per cent increase in demand between August 2016 and August this year. There were 17,000 visits to the food bank in total in 2016 and the charity distributed its one millionth meal in January.
"The greatest increase has been single men aged 25 to 45 who have been able to access support elsewhere. We've also seen an increase in families especially children visiting the food bank.
"The roll out of Universal Credit has had an impact. People are waiting up to six weeks for their benefits and they are already in debt by the time they get that first payment.
"We've seen a slight increase in homelessness too. There are also problems where people have entered employment and had their benefits stopped but they have to wait three to four weeks before they get paid so are really struggling in that gap.
"There are so many other influencing factors. If we have a mild winter we will see an increase but it will be even greater if we have a harsh winter because people have to choose between eating and heating," explains partnership manager Emma Crook, aged 41.
The high demand has been mirrored elsewhere. The Well in Wolverhampton continues provide food and toiletries to more than 7,500 people a year.
The charity has taken on the lease for the unit behind its current warehouse on the Wulfrun Trading Estate, doubling available space to 6,000 sq ft. This enables The Well to receive and store more food and toiletries as well as the potential to receive refrigerated and frozen produce.
While Cannock and District Food Bank has also seen an increase, helping 3,634 people in 2016/17, up from 2,676 in 2015/16.
Last month, it issued an urgent appeal after its usual stocks of around 10 tonnes of food dwindled to just 4.4 tonnes because of the amount of people coming in for help.
Walsall North food bank, which is based at Pelsall Methodist Church, helped more than 450 extra people in 2016/17. The number of three-day supplies handed out rose from 943 to 1,397.
Val Asprey, project manager at Walsall, part of the Trussell Trust network, says the team is seeing an increasing demand for the parcels, which are designed to provide nutritiously balanced meals.
"There are people in desperate need and they need all the help they can get at the moment," she adds.
Helen Holloway, from the Good Shepherd, said there had seen a slight increase in the number of families with 1,019 people registered for support since January this year 1019 clients, including 171 families.
There was also great demand at Smethwick food bank which supplied 2,673 packages.
Express & Star deputy editor Diane Davies said: "We were overwhelmed by the amazing response we received from our readers and local communities last year.
"To collect over 9,000 items for families in need and the homeless was more than we could have hoped for and they were very gratefully received by the charities who are working all year round to help others.
"Sadly, this year we have seen increasing demand on food banks and the problem of homelessness getting worse nationwide.
"Therefore we are once again running our Feed a Family campaign to bring a little Christmas cheer to families struggling to put food on the table, the homeless facing a bleak winter and the women and children forced to flee to a refuge.
"Please help us once again to make a difference to people in need in our communities. Anything foods that can be spared, even just a tin of beans or packet of pasta, will be welcome.
"A small selection box will be a huge treat for a child at The Haven and a pair of socks will help protect someone living on the streets from the cold nights.
"We know how generous the people of the Black Country and Staffordshire can be and hope you will be able to support this very important appeal once again."