DONORS to food banks should give supermarket vouchers rather than food, it has been said in a lecture in York.

Dr Helen Cameron said such a move would free volunteers from the time taken to sort food, and also allow recipients to continue to shop as a family and buy the food they choose.

Emergency food could become “a way of life” for many people because of the Government shake-up of the benefits system, she said in the lecture at the Salvation Army citadel last week.

As reported in The Press yesterday, the number of people receiving support from food banks has soared in York and North Yorkshire, with almost 2,000 children and 6,000 people overall receiving such help in the past year.

Dr Cameron, a guiding light of the Salvation Army, said a new crisis could unfold because of the introduction of Universal Credit, making life harder for many vulnerable families.

She called for a new approach, in a lecture entitled ‘The morality of the food parcel’, as part of York St John University’s series of Ebor Lectures.

She has been looking at the way in which churches have responded to the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis with the provision of emergency food.

Dr Cameron asked: “When the benefit system finally moves over to four-weekly payments, will a proportion of people find that every month ends with a crisis and resource to food banks becomes a regular way of getting by?

“This is certainly the experience of The Salvation Army in the USA as I have already indicated.”

Churches are already reviewing how they feed the hungry. She says a whole new approach may be needed based on plastic rather than physical food.

She continued: “Every major supermarket allows you to put cash on a plastic card at their tills which you can then give as a present.

“If you regularly give food to a food bank then save up until you would have donate £5’s worth of food and put the money on a plastic card and hand it in.

“By giving plastic, you will enable households to continue their chosen eating habits,” she continued. “You will release volunteers from sorting and moving food to have more time to support clients.”

Dr Cameron is a practical theologian and founding Director of the Oxford Centre for Ecclesiology and Practical Theology where she holds a fellowship.

She is also head of public affairs for The Salvation Army. She has written books alone and with others on practical theology, theological reflection and the mission of the local church.

The Press has been running its Stamp Out Poverty campaign since December 2012, aiming to help local anti-poverty charities, raise awareness of the nature and extent of local poverty and tackle stigma.