WITHIN minutes of opening its doors for the day, a steady stream of people start to arrive at the food bank in Acomb, York.
Visitors – many reluctantly using the service for the first time – are warmly invited into the Gateway Centre and offered a drink before being given bags filled with enough food to last them a few days.
Since opening a couple of months ago, more than 100 people in York in financial crisis have used the food bank and the demand is so significant that further centres are planned for Clifton, Tang Hall, Bell Farm and the city centre.
Many are there because of benefit delays and cuts, or simply because they are no longer able to make their low wages stretch to cover their bills and food. Most are young, single people aged from 16 to 24-years-old and without children.
Caleb Ellwood, the food bank manager, said: “What we find is that for the general public it’s a surprise York needs a food bank, but for those on the ground they are not at all surprised – they know the level of poverty. York is a prosperous city, but it has pockets of real poverty.
“A lot of people feel very ashamed and it’s our aim for them not to feel that. A lot of people are here because of circumstances beyond their control. We want to communicate that there’s no shame in having to come here, it could happen to any of us.”
He said the most people to access the food bank came from Westfield, Dringhouses, Woodthorpe, Clifton and Holgate, but he anticipates demand from other areas of the city when new food banks open in February.
Among the people to be referred by the agencies, charities and the church, Sarah, a single mother in her thirties, started volunteering at the food bank after a Sure Start Children’s Centre suggested she went to it for help.
Putting food packages together in a makeshift warehouse at the top of the Gateway Centre, she said: “I was a bit worried about coming and thinking I would be judged, but they are really nice and sit down with you.
“I felt quite emotional about coming. I felt I was not being a proper mum – asking for help isn’t something I do – but I’m glad I did.”
Back in the main room, people have begun to queue to see volunteers, among them smartly dressed sisters and a father with his teenage son.
Caleb said while people could be reluctant to ask for help, many really began to open up, some with heartbreaking stories, including a woman diagnosed with terminal illness whose benefits had been cut and a homeless man unable to afford food due to benefit delays.
He said that while food banks are not tackling the root cause of the problem they act as a stop- gap for people in crisis and had been well supported with hundreds of people donating food at supermarket collections and 70 people signing up to be volunteers.
“We have seen huge generosity — clearly the public want to do all they can to help,” he said.
“We have found the residents of York to be incredibly kind and generous.”
• Sarah’s name has been changed to protect her identity.