Hungry Londoners storm food bank

Hungry Londoners storm food bank

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 7:48 pm

A volunteer selects food for a visitor to the bank

A volunteer selects food for a visitor to the bank

Food bank use in Britain is growing rapidly and Christmas has been a particularly busy time for centres like the one run by a Christian charity in the mostly affluent London neighbourhood of Fulham.

“I don’t come at any other time of year but at Christmas the extra help comes in handy,” said Brenda, a 44-year-old “client” picking up food and presents for her four children aged seven, nine, 10 and 11.

“Without this I don’t know how we would survive,” said the woman, who told AFP during a visit to the centre on Tuesday that she gets by on £340 (433 euros, $527) a week in welfare payments.

“I go without sometimes just to feed them. Sometimes I don’t eat for two days in a week,” she said.

Even as the British economy recovers from recession, many Britons are struggling to get by on low pay and reduced welfare, stirring a social unease that will be a key issue in the general election in May.

Every little bit helps for the needy who come to the Hammersmith and Fulham food bank administered by the Trussell Trust, which fed more than 900,000 people nationwide this year compared with 346,000 last year.

“I’m happy there’s a place we can go. I was a little bit embarrassed at first, but not now,” said Charlene Ralston, 34, an unemployed single mother of two children aged eight and 10.

A family leave a food bank in Fulham. AFP

A family leave a food bank in Fulham. AFP

“I didn’t have much for my kids but they give you a present here so now they have something to open (for Christmas). That makes my day,” she said.

Mohammed Sayed, 44, a Syrian refugee from Damascus with four children also at the centre said: “Without the extended hand of somebody you can’t survive”.

“I feel like it’s my family here,” he said.

The food bank aims to help people with emergency shortfalls, and volunteers give out cereals, pasta and rice, as well as tea, coffee and hot chocolate.

It also acts as an informal community centre.

“People do walk in the door and burst into tears immediately, as soon as somebody says: ‘Hello, have a cup of tea’,” said food bank manager Daphine Aikens.

She said the food is donated by members of the public and companies and the people who come are often referred by social services and schools.

Aikens said she found the wealth gap in Britain “shocking”.

“People don’t realise there are children going hungry”.

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