Page last updated at 09:29 GMT, Sunday, 24 May 2009 10:29 UK

Demand for emergency food rises

Food bank collection in Ebbw Vales
A food bank event at Morrisons in Ebbw Vale collected over 200kg of food

A charity providing emergency food aid says it has seen a massive increase in demand for help in a Welsh town.

The Ebbw Vale food bank in Blaenau Gwent says there has been a 300% increase in those asking for help.

The Festival Church Trust, which runs the service, believes the credit crunch is partly to blame for the surge in demand.

The food bank offers emergency supplies for individuals who simply do not have enough money to eat.

The charity's manager, Adrian Curtis, said many of those affected were on benefits.

"So far we've fed 165 people in the borough and last month we saw a 300% increase in our client base," he said.

"As more people are getting familiar with it, we're getting more coming forward.

"We have noticed that some clients that have come in can be attributed to the credit crunch."

He said just over half of the clients had contacted the food bank because of problems related to their benefit claims.

Nigel Smith, food bank recipient
It gives you hope. It's not just the food and the money, it's the fact that someone cares
Nigel Smith, Food bank client

"As a result of the economic downturn the benefit system is under stress and people are having to wait a little longer for their benefits," said Mr Curtis, who is also regional development officer for Food Bank Wales.

He said the food bank helped people in a short-term crisis, such as a sudden drop in income which meant they could not provide food for themselves and their family.

This includes people who have been made redundant or even victims of domestic abuse who have fled their homes with almost nothing.


"To bridge the gap, we would step in and provide the client with three days worth of nutritionally balanced tinned and dried food," said Mr Curtis.

The food bank works by collecting tinned and dried food from members of the public through collections at locations including supermarkets, schools, churches and businesses.

Agencies such as benefits offices and domestic abuse services hold vouchers which can be exchanged for food.

The food bank in Ebbw Vale, launched at the end of last year, is the first of its kind in Wales but others are planned in Cardiff, Bridgend, the Rhondda, Pontyclun in Rhondda Cynon Taf and Pontllanfraith in Caerphilly county borough.

Across the UK, the food bank network has now fed 24,000 people.

One individual helped by the project was unemployed Nigel Smith, 44, originally from Blaina.

On the Friday morning before the May Day bank holiday, he discovered he would be unable to access any money as a result of a delay in his benefit.


When benefits staff supplied him with a food voucher to help him out, he walked the 10 miles from his home to the food bank in Ebbw Vale.

Staff there were able to supply him with two bags of food - a variety of tins, pasta, biscuits and breakfast cereal - as well as money for a bus ticket home and even a lift to the bus stop.

"It's helped me a lot. Things are really bad at the moment. I missed signing on because I was ill," said Mr Smith, who lost his council home after a fire 18 months ago and has since been living in a small flat near Brynmawr.

"It makes you feel good inside. I like to do things for people and it's nice to know that there are people out there willing to do things to help me.

"They have helped me out in every way I could have hoped for. It gives you hope. It's not just the food and the money, it's the fact that someone cares."

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