Upper Eden Foodbank

A foodbank which serves rural communities in north Cumbria has experienced its busiest ever Christmas since launching.

The Upper Eden Foodbank was formed in 2013 and has representatives from both Methodists and Anglican churches on its Management Committee. It supplies food parcels to individuals and families within the Kirkby Stephen, Appleby and Tebay areas, extending to Penrith.

Their latest figures reveal that year-on-yeardemand between the months of September and December, had risen by more than 80%. It means they received more than 70 referrals for that period and prepared more than 150 bags of food in the lead up to Christmas. Overall more than 440 people were supported in a year.

Anne Bell, a volunteer with the foodbank, said: “When I explain what we’re doing, people will often say ‘Well there’s no one in need in Appleby is there?’ People don’t realise the level of poverty that some people are living in. There’s such a focus on urban poverty but there’s plenty of rural poverty too.

“That’s made worse by low wages, bad transport links and fuel poverty; some people simply can’t afford to put petrol in their cars to travel around.”

The Upper Eden Foodbank is run from the Sands Methodist Church in Appleby. Volunteers meet regularly to replenish the stock of food which is stored in the building, prior to packing bags and sending them out to holding centres in the market town as well as Kirkby Stephen and Penrith.

The team developed this system of distribution to help protect the anonymity of those people who call on the Foodbank for help. The holding centres are purposefully busy places which many people visit regularly. The food parcels are supplied in bags from supermarkets local to the area, again to protect identity.

The Rev Stephen Radford, local Methodist minister and Chair of the Foodbank’s management committee, said: “This is all about being there for our community; people can see what is being done, the care that’s being offered up and the difference that the foodbank’s making. People might think we’re talking about small numbers but in terms of the percentage of the population this makes the situation as bad as somewhere like Sunderland.

“We have volunteers from across all our local denominations and also from no denominations. We’re telling the story of Jesus quietly through our actions. Someof the people we’ve helped have asked why we do this and we’ve been able to explain. They have understood.

“God is in the heart of all those people who are volunteering their services or donating food. Christianity is a wonderful enabler. As far as I’m concerned there is an army of angels – who’ve taken time out of their busy lives – to make this work.”

Referrals are made to the foodbank via social services, GP practices, housing associations and schools. The foodbank offers three types of food parcels – single person, family and emergency bags for those people who have been moved to emergency accommodation.

Foodbank collection points are in place at the local Co-op Stores, as well as a funeral director’s and in schools.

A dedicated phone holder can take calls from 9am to 6pm on weekdays and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. In emergency cases volunteers can also meet those in need face-to-face in public places.

Anne added: “We’ve had people contact us who haven’t eaten for three days. There are times when I’ve met up with someone who’s in an emergency and they’ve broken down in tears in front of me because I’ve turned up to help them. There are times when I’ve got back in my car and I’ve been in tears too.”

· The Upper Eden Foodbank is looking for a secretary. Anyone interested should contact 07596 690902.