WINTER is coming, and the team of volunteers who run Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank are bracing themselves for a sharp hike in demand for food parcels.

Rising demand means that by the end of this year, the food bank will have distributed around 12,000 food parcels. The number of handouts has risen significantly over recent years; in 2010 the charity distributed a total of 1,000 food bags, increasing to 7,850 by 2013. In 2014 more than 800 bags were handed out each month, and the total for the year was 10,000. The figure for 2015 was 11,033 bags.

Earlier this year the Telegraph & Argus reported that volunteers had resorted to paying for some food themselves, and were also collecting donations in their own vehicles, at their own expense.

Treasurer Keith Thomson said: “Over the last three years the number of £15 food bags we are making up has risen by about 500 pa.

“This now shows an increase from 1,500 in 2011, 3,500 in 2012, 8,000 in 2013, 10,000 in 2014, 10,500 in 2015, and about 11,000 in 2016, with this year looking to be at least another 500 in excess of this.

“However the number is higher, as we are given all sorts of foods, often fresh, that don’t go in our bags, and are collected by social workers, housing offices, specialist charity staff and the like who visit our depot and help themselves to bread, cakes, vegetables and the like to take to specific families that day.

“All in all these must add up to a further 500 plus bags worth, so the figures we quote are the minimum ones and don’t reflect what exactly goes out for those who are struggling.”

Mr Thomson said the Universal Credit system could cause an even higher rise in demand, with families forced to wait six weeks before they get the money they need, while rent and bills build up.

“This is the background to the sustained demand for food bank support, and if it becomes the normal method of payment of benefits across the board, as is the intention, then we anticipate a real demand in numbers,” said Mr Thomson. “It will always be paid a month in arrears, rather than the current two weeks pattern of being paid up front, it will only be paid into a bank account, which many families may not have, and the rent aspect of benefits will be paid directly to the tenant, and not to the landlord who is currently the recipient in many cases.

“It could mean that families and individuals who have been used to scraping by will be faced with a large sum at the end of the month, a slightly reduced benefit compensated by a month’s rent, and I suspect that managing that over a month may well be a challenge for some time for many desperate folk. It could be that it would be used to pay off debts, particularly to loan sharks, then there will be the problem of not paying the rent, and eviction, or not having enough to eat.

“However it does look as though it might be some time before it becomes the normal payment method in Bradford district, perhaps 2019, and at the moment it only applies to single applicants and new claimants with two or fewer children.

“Whenever it happens it’s not going to be too helpful and we anticipate that we will need to continue supplying food bag support for years to come.”

The food bank supplies food parcels containing around £15 of food to professional carers in social services, housing associations, mental health services, hospitals and up to 100 charities supporting young people, victims of domestic violence, immigrants, and so on.

“We have noticed that the cost of food is rising and supermarkets are stopping production of own-brand cheap cereals, and with other price rises we will struggle over the next year or so,” said Mr Thomson. “Because of this we’re seeking more food supplies and small donations of money, particularly as we’re now considering the need for a van that will take one pallet of food and cut out all the handling we have to do at the moment in our own cars, at our expense. A healthy second-hand van would be very helpful.”

The food bank opened in 2004, as an extension of the Curry Project, which serves hot meals for rough sleepers. While the Curry Project is a drop-in service, the food bank distributes parcels through community leaders and agencies.

Lashman Singh, who set up both projects, said: “The food bank can’t cope without a vehicle. We use our own cars, but loading and unloading is a big task in itself - then we have to pack 1,000 parcels a month. We collect donations from across the district. A van would be a big help.”

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