Heartbreak of Leeds children going to bed hungry

Linda Jackson, project manager of Leeds South Foodbank
Linda Jackson, project manager of Leeds South Foodbank
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OF the 2,200 people Leeds South Foodbank has fed in the past eight months, more than HALF were hungry children.

When project manager Linda Jackson added up the numbers she was “devastated” by what she found.

“What drives me is the children.

“The thought that children are going to bed hungry really breaks my heart.”

She soon realised that the dire situation in Leeds South, home to some of the city’s most deprived areas, would only deepen during the school holidays when parents whose youngsters receive free school meals suddenly have to provide an extra meal per child, every weekday, for six long weeks.

Mum-of-two Linda said: “All of my centres are on standby to meet the need.

“One of the reasons I have boosted my stock levels is to meet the potential demand over summer when the lack of free school meals starts to bite.”

Over the past month Linda has organised extra supermarket collections to stockpile EIGHT tonnes of food – the equivalent of almost three double decker buses filled with food.

As well as helping to supply its planned new centres she hopes these pre-emptive measures will prevent their warehouse shelves being completely cleared by families who are expected to reach crisis point this summer.

A stark indicator of the level of demand they could face was apparent yesterday when a drop-in breakfast session at Hunslet Methodist Church – to which Leeds South Foodbank supplies food – saw more than double the number of service users turn up on the first day of the school holidays.

Leeds South has handed out a staggering 35 tonnes of emergency supplies since it launched last October – equivalent to almost 12 double decker buses filled with food.

Service users must produce a voucher after being referred by agencies such as doctors, social workers and the Probation Service.

Despite running six foodbanks across Leeds South, demand is so huge, a further three – in Rothwell, Cottingley and Beeston – are planned to open by September.

Three-quarters of the people receiving emergency food from Leeds South use the Belle Isle and Hunslet centres.

The Belle Isle Foodbank, at St John’s and St Barnabas Church, is the busiest in the Leeds South area.

Centre manager Pauline O’Riordan said: “The school holidays are a nightmare for parents.

“If there are three children, that’s 15 school lunches missing. There are no extra benefits and very little in the way of lunch clubs and breakfast clubs.

“It all stops in the school holidays but children are still hungry.”

Over the past eight months, Mrs O’Riordan has handed out emergency food parcels to people from all walks of life.

“The despair sometimes is heartbreaking.”

She said: “I’ve seen a landlord bring a tenant. I’ve even seen a headmaster bring in a pupil because he knew that child was going home to nothing.”

She added: “It’s hard to see a man in tears. They are often ashamed of the fact they are in such a despicable situation.”

She said: “It’s not a simple matter of ‘it’s their fault, this is how they spend their money’.”It doesn’t work like that.”

Earlier this week the YEP revealed nearly 20 double-decker buses worth of food have been distributed to help feed the city since September.

However, not one of the city’s four Trussell Trust foodbanks has before been open during the summer holidays.

They have already reported a huge increase in the number who turned to them during the Easter holidays, which lasted just two weeks.

The YEP has launched its Feed A Family campaign to help our city’s families feed their children this summer.

We are calling on readers to pledge their support and buy items off our special shopping list over the next six weeks. Special collection points are available around the city. Businesses, charities and organisations can also hold their own food collections or donate money to individual foodbanks.

Visit yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk for our dedicated section on our Feed a Family campaign.

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