A new food bank,distributing food to poor families across the district, is about to be launched following a helping hand from a Bradford church. But why in the 21st century, asks ASIAN EYE, are people still in need of food handouts?

Fourteen years ago Lashman Singh launched the Bradford Curry Project, serving hot meals to homeless people in inner city areas.

The scheme continues to operate several days a week, on a drop-in basis. But for some time Lashman has been keen to set up a district-wide service reaching a wider net of people in need.

Now his team has launched the Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank, providing food parcels to people living in poverty right across the district. Instead of being a drop-in service, the food will be distributed via professionals and organisations working with deprived families.

After 18 months of planning, Lashman's team is finally going ahead with the scheme, thanks to Father John Abberton at St Mary's Church in Barkerend, who has provided premises for food storage in a former nursery next to the church.

"The Diocese of Leeds is still deciding what to do with the building so it's free in the meantime," says Father Abberton. "This project is a good way of people from different communities working together."

"We now have a place to store the donations of food that have been coming in, the space to sort through them and the facility from which to distribute food to organisations working with people in need," adds Lashman. "We give our thanks to Father Abberton for making this happen and look forward to a positive partnership together.

"Our research shows that while the concept of food banks is widely used in countries like Canada, there are a limited number in Britain. It's something that's very much needed here.

"Small organisations making and serving food in Bradford only reach a minority because they tend to be within the city," he says. "There are many more vulnerable individuals and families across the district who are disadvantaged and in need of food, whose health and wellbeing could be improved by the provision of more regular and fresh food within their own communities. Eventually we'd like to set up fresh food distribution points in areas where they're needed."

But why, in this day and age, are we still handing out food to families in need?

Lashman doesn't ask questions of those using the Curry Project "if they turn up they're in need of food, that's all there is to it" but those using the food bank will be referred by people like social workers, teachers and others working among deprived communities.

"Many people, while not actually homeless, live in poor quality accommodation without proper facilities to cook for themselves, let alone a family," says Lashman. "People become trapped in poverty and end up sharing bedsits and other sub-standard accommodation. There's an immense problem with debt on estates, people have so much money going out they end up not being able to afford to eat properly. Drink and drug abuse is also part of the poverty trap.

"And look at the demands society makes on us, all the TV advertising for products that people aspire to even though they can't afford it. When there's a big international disaster we put our hands in our pockets and raise millions but we do very little for the people on our own doorsteps."

Food poverty expert Dr Martin Caraher says the stark reality of poverty can lead to poor diet and people dying younger. He says many of the poorest households have become clustered together in estates suffering deprivation.

"They suffer high unemployment and inadequate housing. There is a north-south divide, with the north and Scotland having the greatest concentration of poorer areas and thus food poverty. These communities have experienced the withdrawal of basic services and amenities, including food retailers.

"The big supermarket groups, offering the widest range of goods at the cheapest prices, have often withdrawn from deprived areas, preferring out-of-town locations for wealthier car-owning consumers, or in areas where richer people live.

"If people in poorer communities have to rely on small corner stores they may have to pay anything up to 13 per cent more for a nutritionally adequate diet than if they shopped in a big supermarket."

"In modern Britain food poverty is different from what people in Victorian times would have recognised large swathes of the population unable to afford to eat," he adds. "Instead, the poor of today suffer from lack of access to healthy food. Those on low incomes eat less well, often paying more for food. They endure poorer quality food and as a result suffer more diet-related ill-health. All in all, food poverty today is as much to do with dietary imbalance as under-nourishment."

"There is evidence that healthier foods cost more. Replacing white bread with wholemeal and high-fat products with low fat products can really hit the household budget. And peer pressure can play a major role in food choice families on low incomes are more likely to buy branded food for lunchboxes to overcome a possible stigma of using own label products."

Dr Caraher says a package of food measures is needed to ease food poverty. "The food industry and the National Health Service could take more of a lead in promoting healthy eating, while improvements in public transport would allow people greater access to out-of-town supermarkets where choice and price are often better."

In the meantime, the food bank is appealing for volunteers to donate and help distribute supplies.

"We store tinned and dried food and jars, packets and cartons. We need people willing to drive to collect donations of food or distribute it. Even better we need a van! If a local business with transport would be willing to support our work by lending or leasing a van that would drastically increase the amount of food we can collect and distribute," says Lashman. "We also need charities, community groups, religious organisations, school breakfast clubs, representatives from GPs' practices and from asylum seeker services and any other groups working with people in need to identify where the need is and come forward to get involved."

l Anyone who can help, or wants more information about the Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank, can ring Lashman Singh on (01274) 521028, Helen Bradshaw on 0793 9088403 or Keith Thomson on (01274) 5426722.