A NEW food bank opened last week in Pitsea and two weeks ago one was announced for the Southchurch area of Southend.
It’s hard to believe that in modern Britain, ordinary people – even those in work – need help feeding themselves and their families.
But that is the stark reality facing growing numbers of families relying on food banks across South Essex.
National charity the Trussell Trust helps local churches operate two food banks in South Essex already in Thurrock and Pitsea, with the Southchurch project coming next.
Several other similar schemes are also operated – usually by churches – including Share in Shoebury and the Storehouse in Southend town centre.
The Storehouse, in Coleman Street, extended its hours earlier this year amid a huge rise in people coming through its doors.
Sarah-Jane Baker, 32, from Southend, began attending a special family session at the centre after hitting rock bottom a few years ago and not knowing where to turn.
She said: “A friend told me about this when things went wrong. I hit a bad patch when my partner left around three years ago, and they said they would help me. I was reluctant at first, but it’s turned everything around for me.
“It gave me something to focus on and gave us the opportunity to meet new people in a similar situation.”
As well as providing people with food, the centre also puts on playgroup sessions for children and gives advice to help people back on their feet.
Sarah-Jane added: “They offer you help with the things you wouldn’t usually think of approaching someone about, such as housing charges, and you get the chance to speak to a professional.”
Genny Standen, 36, from Southchurch, was a regular at the Southend Vineyard Church, which runs the Storehouse, and got involved in volunteering at the project after turning to it for help.
She said: “They really helped me through financial problems in the past – I was in a horrible situation.
“I kept to myself most of the time because my confidence had been knocked, but they helped me build that back up over time.”
She added: “The food bags do really make a difference to your shopping, because benefits and help from the Government only go so far.
“I spoke to a homeless man last weekend and he said after he lost his wife, if it wasn’t for the Storehouse he’d be in a really bad place.”
Another food bank user turned volunteer is Kayleigh Paveley, from Southend.
After becoming a single mum, she started visiting the Storehouse and it has since helped her gain qualifications.
The centre is open to the public on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, between 11.30am and 2pm.
As well as food bags, Storehouse offers a variety of services, from family days to art groups, furniture restoration projects and NHS counsellors and drugs agencies.
Sam Vincett, senior pastor of Southend Vineyard, said: “If people come here in need, we can connect them with someone who can help straight away.
“When someone is in crisis and they’re told to wait three weeks, it’s not helpful.
“Here, we can put a name to the agency they need and it helps.”