Foodbanks across Leeds are in need of kind-hearted volunteers to help cope with the soaring demand of families turning to them for help this Christmas. Debbie Leigh reports.
Dale Lassey hadn’t eaten for almost four days when he finally turned to a Leeds foodbank in desperation.
He never imagined the help he received would be a lifeline in more ways than one.
He said: “I think I went three and a half days without something to eat. My support worker said ‘I’m going to have to take you to the foodbank now because you will end up in hospital if we don’t.”
The former South Leeds High pupil had been battling mental health problems for around 18 months – causing him to lose control of his finances - plus severe agoraphobia which had virtually made him a prisoner in his own home.
The emergency food parcel he was handed at Belle Isle Family Centre helped him recover his strength and get back on his feet.
But plucking up the courage to approach the foodbank, and the warm welcome and support he received there, was just as life-changing.
“I just decided something needed to change, quickly, before something really went wrong.”
Within a couple of weeks he had joined the team of volunteers at Leeds South Foodbank, who had helped him through his darkest days.
And he soon worked his way up to warehouse manager for Leeds South.
The 22-year-old, who grew up in Beeston and now lives in Middleton, said: “It started out as two hours on a Tuesday.
“Now I’m doing around four or five days a week.
“I’ve seen it grow from when it was in a tiny room to what it is now.
“We’ve got our own warehouse and we operate on eight sites and have fed more than 4,000 people.”
He added: “I think I might be the youngest warehouse manager (with the Trussell Trust) in the country.”
Foodbank managers in Leeds have warned that demand looks set to treble this Christmas and there simply won’t be enough supplies to go round.
Despite a baseline stock level of more than 16 tonnes of food between them, they estimate that they still need to collect at least a further seven tonnes of food to even come close to meeting demand over the festive break.
Dale said seeing the steady stream of Leeds residents in such dire straits was “upsetting” but he was pleased he could help.
“One case that got to me was an elderly lady who was looking after her two grandchildren and they were about to go through the whole weekend without gas or electricity or food.
“I had to supply them with food that didn’t need cooking and we gave them information on emergency funding but I was upset because I couldn’t finish what I had started - I could only give them so much.”
We are asking YEP readers to follow Dale’s example in making life a little less bleak for those who have fallen on hard times.
We want you to give the gift of time this Christmas and sign up to volunteer at your nearest foodbank.
In just over a year in Leeds, under the banner of the Trussell Trust, almost 20 foodbanks have opened across the city.
By the end of 2015, there are expected to be at least a further 14.
Between them they will need to recruit more than 300 volunteers - from van driver to supermarket collections manager and IT support.
Linda Jackson, project manager for Leeds South and East Foodbanks, said: “We need an army of people.”
Lucy Pitkin, project manager of Leeds West Foodbank, said just by giving up a few hours a month, YEP readers could help to transform lives.
Kathryn Fitzsimons, vicar of the Church of Epiphany in Gipton and chair of Leeds East Foodbank committee, said: “Whatever our belief or faith, we are conscious of a call to look out for people other than ourselves and to do so through supporting a foodbank - either by giving money or food or giving time - will enable us as a city to overcome some of these hardships.
“One of the things about being a volunteer is that it raises your awareness of what’s really going on.
“Many people have no idea, they think people that use foodbanks are scroungers or dossers but actually when you hear their stories you realise these people are just like you and me.”
Many foodbank volunteers started out as service users and after receiving that support to get their lives on track, decided they wanted to give something back.
For some it has been a stepping stone into paid work, providing them with invaluable work experience.
Dale said: “It’s so simple, just come in and fill in an application form.
“It’s good for your CV. It’s great work experience with the number of hours you can clock up – plus it’s knowing you can help people.”
However, Dale isn’t ready to move away from the organisation that came to his rescue.
He said: “I’m too attached to this place to leave right now.”
As well as giving the gift of time this Christmas, the YEP is also calling on readers to pledge their support and buy items off our special shopping list over the next four weeks.
Special collection points are available to drop food off around the city to support foodbanks in north, east, south and west Leeds.
And we are also throwing down the gauntlet to businesses, charities and organisations across Leeds to hold their own food collections to support our campaign.
Martin Allison, chairman of Leeds Community Foundation, was involved in early discussions with the Trussell Trust, a national charity involved in promoting the roll-out of foodbanks throughout the country.
He added: “Winter can be a hard time for many people.
“Foodbanks not only provide a lifeline to families struggling to put a healthy meal on the table but also deliver help and advice.
“Volunteers play a crucial role in the day to day running of a foodbank from sorting collections to distributing food packs.
“Therefore, it is great that the YEP’s Feed a Family Appeal is helping to increase donations of food, as well as encouraging people to volunteer their time, so that foodbanks can continue to deliver their services over winter.”
MAKE A DONATION
East Leeds: Oxford Place Methodist Centre, on Mon and Thur, 2pm to 6.30pm.
North Leeds: Moor Allerton Methodist Church, Alderton Rise, on Mon, Wed and Fri from 11am to 1pm; or Lister Hill Baptist Church, Horsforth, 2pm to 4pm on Wed, 10am to noon Sat; Tesco, Roundhay Road, seven days a week.
St John and St Barnabas Church, Belle Isle Road, LS10 3DN, on Wed from 9.30am to 4pm; and Hunslet Methodist Church, Telford Terrace on Wed from 10am to noon.
West Leeds: Tesco in Bramley, all week; Morrish Solicitors in Pudsey, Mon to Fri office hours, and The Mill Kitchen, in Farsley, seven days.
Milk (UHT or powdered)
Fruit juice (carton)
Sponge Pudding (tinned)
Rice Pudding (tinned)
Tea bags/instant coffee
Instant Mashed potato