More food banks open in Kent to feed the hungry
FOOD banks in Kent are opening more branches in the county to cope with demand from the needy.
There are plans to open at least five extra food banks as people in dire financial circumstances struggle to feed themselves.
Volunteers running centres in four areas across Kent are preparing for busy times ahead.
Paul Robinson, chief executive of Strood Community Project, which runs five food banks in Medway, said: "There has been an explosion of food banks across the county because so many people are living on the edge.
"They can cope for a while but all it takes is one factor to change in their lives to push them over."
People are referred to food banks by social workers, job centres and school liaison officers.
They are issued with vouchers which they can exchange for food when there is no alternative.
There are 11 food banks operating in four areas of the county including Deal, Ashford, Medway and Gravesham. They are run by volunteers and depend on donations from the public.
Medway plans to open two more food banks in Walderslade and Twydall, adding to its existing outlets in Strood, Chatham and Gillingham.
Mr Robinson said: "There is a huge diversity of reasons why people need to use a food bank. It could be a family break up or changes in benefits. We have an awful lot of individuals who need our help because they have no family support network."
Mr Robinson said people are often left penniless by delays caused when their benefits are changed.
He said: "We provide food for people in a crisis and our food parcels are designed to last for three days. This is roughly how long it takes for people to get help from the authorities when something has changed with their benefits.
"It might be because they were on full disability benefit but have been assessed and moved onto job seeker's allowance."
The food bank network is run by the Trussell Trust, a charity which estimates that 13 million people in Britain are living below the poverty line.
In Kent, 135,700 households are living below the poverty line, according to the latest figures available from the Office for National Statistics, based on a 2008 survey.
Between 2011 and 2012, food banks fed 128,687 in Britain. This year the Trust expects that number to rise to 230,000.
George Faulks, director of Ashford Food Bank, said: "We know people are in need so we are opening another food bank in south Ashford.
"We have people who have swallowed a lot of time before coming in. It's really very hard for them and their stories are heartbreaking.
"Some people don't want to admit that they need to come here but they're hungry. There's nothing in the cupboard."
Deal food bank, which runs two centres in the area, is planning to open two more in Sandwich and Aylesham.
Alan Thompson, chairman of the trustees for Deal Area Food Bank, said: "We are expecting to see numbers of people using the food bank go up. Both people on benefits and in employment are using our service. These are hard times."
David Idowu, project manager at Gravesham Food Bank which runs three centres around Gravesend, added: "You would expect food banks to be necessary in third world countries but this is right here on our doorstep. People are going hungry.
"But we are getting no support from the Government. We are being told, 'Well done,' but in terms of finances we are getting no help from the authorities."