It’s just before 11am on a Thursday morning at St Matthews Church in New Hall Lane.Advertisement
There’s no church service planned but already a number of families sit and wait as packages of food are unpacked and lined up on tables.
This is one of the dozens of Holiday Hunger food markets operating during the summer holidays in Preston.
Set up by Preston City Council in association with food redistribution charity FareShare there’s tens of families now receiving help.
The St Matthews market has food donated from a nearby Tesco as well as food FareShare source from other providers with bread, fruit and lots of bags of pretzels piled up.
Greg Smith, who operates this group, said many people are at a constant breaking point.
He said: “We have to be quite strict about ensuring people are queueing up at the time we’ve stated. Word has got round and we regularly have around 20 families attending.
“Some of them have one child to feed, others have six. They come here because they will not be judged.
“I’ve been working across the city on projects to help those in need for many years but in the last five years it really has become a lot worse.
“These are people who are a meal or two away from real destitution and are trapped in that poverty cycle.”
Mr Smith and his fellow volunteers fill six tables worth of food and drinks out before the families are allowed through in an orderly line and take items into bags and as much as they can carry.
One of those attending is Karen, to pick up provisions for her daughter and her five grandchildren.
The 60-year-old, who lives in St Matthews, said: “This is an absolute godsend for us. It makes such a difference.
“My daughter is looking after those children and she can’t work because of her arthritis.
“Getting a good meal for them can be hard, and especially hard during the school holidays.
“You get proper food here and they love it. They know when I’m going and the kids they are so excited that granny will be coming back with all this food.”
Read more: This Preston mum is working to stop ‘Holiday Hunger’
Karen after the market has filled two carrier bags and her wheel-a-long carrier with food for the family.
Mr Smith said a lot of those who need help can’t attend the market at the church, so he and volunteers have started to take supplies to them.
He said: “Some of them are working during the day, on very low paid jobs, or they are too unwell to make it here.
“We know where they are and we make sure a bag or two is put aside.”
The markets were due to operate for around an hour and a half, but as we observe the food and drink has gone within 15-20minutes and Mr Smith says this is now the normal time it takes.
Shannon and Sharon are another two women who are being helped by the food hangouts.
19-year-old Shannon has a three-year-old son and was working as a community support worker.
She said: “Having access to this food means my son can get a good meal.
“You can get cheap food in the city but it’s not good food.
“With this we can make sure he gets his fruit and vegetables.”
Shannon is living with Sharon, 48, in Skeffington Road, and they say it is a struggle to get by with the three of them living in a one-bedroom flat.
Sharon said: “I can’t work because of my epilepsy and so to have this food is a godsend for all of us.
“I’ve been a number of times and we’re able to stock up on food. There’s also the long-life milk so that means you can always have a cup of tea or the little lad can have some cereal.
“We have to make those choices when it comes to food, and you want to give the kids fruit and veg but when that choice is between a hot meal or fruit and veg, you have to give them the hot meal.
“I prefer these events to the foodbanks. You need to have the forms to go to the foodbanks, but here you don’t feel judged. It’s not the people at the foodbank who judge you, they are great and helpful, but it’s the process that makes you feel like that.”
Back to Mr Smith, who has now helped many families pack up bags and they depart the church to go home and fill store cupboards.
He said: “What’s the solution to all this? I think it has to be a universal minimum income.
“There are just so many people struggling in our society and the benefits system has become so complicated.
“I know there are trials in Scandinavian countries and in Canada and I think it’s something that should be explored. You need that base to ensure people are not falling into destitution.”
Read more: Housing charity Shelter opening shop in Preston city centre
The Holiday Hunger markets are funded by the city council, who ran a pilot scheme in February and April in conjunction with a number of schools in the city.
Cabinet member for communities and social justice councillor Nweeda Khan said: “The Holiday Markets have been highly valuable so far, helping many families within the communities of Preston. The organisations which worked together with the schools to deliver the 30 markets, have been an integral part to the success of this scheme.
“Preston City Council have started conversations with local businesses to see how we can increase access to good food over holiday periods and build this as an integral part of the community calendar in the future.”
The food redistribution charity takes in food from supermarkets and wholesalers which is close to its best before date.
It then supplies foodbanks and other food clubs across Lancashire and Cumbria.
The charity says it is now providing 2,425 meals to children across Lancashire and the wider region, a fourfold increase on this time last year.
FareShare also provides food for school dinners during term-time.
Manager at FareShare Jeff Green said: “For parents of children who normally receive free school meals, the summer can be a difficult time to make ends meet – with the strain of added food costs, activities and childcare meaning many families can struggle to provide food.
“ActiveAte is our campaign to address this issue, and this year’s figures across Lancashire and Cumbria, particularly in comparison to 2017, demonstrate the glaring need for food provision in our communities.
“With the support of our food partners, we’re grateful to be able to support more frontline holiday projects than any summer before. But in order to ensure no child goes hungry this holiday, we are appealing both to the food industry for an increased provision of nutritious food, as well as to the public for donations. Just £7 can have a real, tangible impact – providing 28 meals for children at a holiday project.”
FareShare accepts donations via their website.
Preston also has a major foodbank at the Salvation Army in Greenbank Street who accept donations.
What do you think about the Holiday Hunger markets? Let us know in the comments below