MP: We’ll feed our poor

MP: We’ll feed our poor
Kirsty Gibbons, East Lothian Courier

l Food bank project aimed at thousands of county families who are living in poverty

AN ASTONISHING 12,000 families in East Lothian are living below the poverty line, says the MP who is poised to establish the county’s first ‘food bank’.

East Lothian MP Fiona O’Donnell is leading plans to create an emergency food supply for poverty-stricken residents, following a public meeting in Haddington Town House last Wednesday which was attended by more than 80 people.

The gathering heard from Ewan Gurr, of the Trussell Trust, which opened its first food bank 12 years ago and has established 200 across the UK since, including 10 in Scotland.

Also in attendance was Nicola Bruce, the family and youth development worker for the Church of Scotland’s Tranent Cluster, who has played a key role in the early stages of the East Lothian proposal. Other community figures involved in the project include the Rev Robin Hill, of Longniddry and Gladsmuir, and the Rev Canon Anne Dyer, of Holy Trinity Church in Haddington.

Ms O’Donnell (pictured) is now working with representatives from community organisations and churches across the county to establish an East Lothian Food Bank charity, which would be registered with the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR).

The Labour politician and mum-of-four insists that "every single community" in East Lothian is home to struggling residents who would benefit from the "short-term assistance" of a food bank.

She said: "I don’t think there is a single community in the county that does not have individuals in need of a resource like this. There are figures provided by the Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics (SNS) that show high levels of poverty in Musselburgh and North Berwick for example.

"I don’t think East Lothian is worse off than anywhere else in the country in terms of food poverty but neither are we better off.

"I had a woman come to one of my surgeries just before Christmas and her neighbour had been feeding her four children. It was just horrific. And I’ve started to hear more and more stories like that. This wasn’t an unique problem.

"I can imagine nothing worse as a mother than not being able to feed my children. I remember when I was a young mum and there were times when I struggled. That is the reality for some families in East Lothian and for others struggling to make ends meet."

East Lothian has a population of approximately 97,500.

Of those, 13 per cent are income-deprived, meaning 12,675 men, women and children live below the poverty line, according to information produced by SNS and provided by the Trussell Trust.

Said Ms O’Donnell: "I have had many conversations since my election about how we tackle poverty locally.

"The establishment of a food bank is one way we can work together to make a difference and at least ensure that no-one in East Lothian goes to bed hungry.

People of all faiths and no faith, and of all political persuasions, can get involved. I am reaching out to every community to ask them to play their part."

Funding of about £1,500 is required to establish a food bank, which comprises one main control centre and two further distribution points – the locations of which will be decided at a later date.

The MP added: "We would need to take into account various things before we decide on locations, for example whether or not there are adequate public transport links available."

Though the scheme would be operated by volunteers, the MP added that there would be opportunities for young people to gain valuable work experience by assisting at the food bank to boost their employment potential.

It is anticipated that the Trussell Trust will provide support and training to the East Lothian food bank once it is up and running.

It has not been decided yet whether the East Lothian charity will formally open a food bank in partnership with the trust, or establish an independent organisation which follows a similar framework. It is hoped the project will be up and running within 12 months.

Donations would be available to anyone who qualifies as ‘in need’, from struggling students and single-parent families, to low-income households and elderly residents.

"Obviously there is the chance that someone could abuse the system, taking food to sell it on or something like that, but that is a risk worth taking for helping the vast majority in desperate need," added the MP.

The Trussell Trust System:

Care professionals such as doctors, health visitors, social workers, CAB and police identify people in crisis and issue them with a foodbank voucher.

Foodbank clients bring their voucher to a foodbank centre where it can be redeemed for three days’ emergency food. Volunteers meet clients over a cup of tea or free hot meal and are able to signpost people to agencies able to solve the longer-term problem.

Some foodbanks also run a rural delivery service, which takes emergency foodboxes to clients living in rural areas who cannot afford to get to a foodbank.

Schools, churches, businesses and individuals donate non-perishable, in-date food to a foodbank. Events are also held at supermarkets where volunteers give shoppers a ‘food-bank shopping list’ and ask them to buy an extra item or two for local people in crisis.