Thousands of Leeds people face not being able to put Christmas dinner on the table this year

While most of Leeds head into Christmas week looking forward to tucking into festive, family feasts - for thousands of people across the city they will be wondering just how to put food on the table for Christmas day.

Saturday, 21st December 2019, 11:45 am
Foodbanks are proving to be a lifeline across Leeds.

Last year the month of December was 44 per cent busier than any other month for foodbanks which are run by the Trussell Trust - a charitable network of foodbanks - and this year the demand is expected to be just as high as people struggle to provide Christmas for their kids.

Leeds has food banks which cover the Leeds North and West areas and the Leeds South and East areas. The North West has nine locations that distribute food parcels and the South East hands out emergency food parcels from 11 locations.

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Karen Burgon manages the Leeds North West foodbank.

In December of last year, South and East handed out 1149 food parcels with almost half the beneficiaries being children - and this year is expected to be even busier as parents are faced with the stark choice of whether they buy their kids a Christmas present, something to eat on Christmas Day - or do they put the heating on?

Many people take this for granted but many more are desperate and relying on the kind-hearted people of Leeds to see them through the festive period.

Nathanya Laurent is the development manager at the Leeds South and East Foodbank and explains: "At Christmas time costs go up. Families don't want their children to feel left out and want to buy them something for Christmas and are trying to work out do we buy a present, food or heating? They are in a dilemma.

"We are also dealing with vulnerable families. Children rely on free school meals in term time and in the longer school holidays when that stops the family have to find the extra money and that is a real challenge."

Leeds United fans have been hitting the back of the net with regular donations throughout the football season.

However, she said that the city at times like these sees random acts of kindness with strangers and members of the public doing whatever they can to help others that need it more. People donate a single tin or a day's worth of food and the foodbank parcels that are being handed out over these coming weeks will include 'Christmassy' items such as a selection box, biscuits, Christmas cake or mince pies to help lift the person in need.

Where possible the foodbank will pop a toy in with the food parcel dependant on donations.

Leeds cares

There are also other projects running across the city that are helping out at this time of year.

Luke Ayling was among the Leeds players who took time out to help the foodbanks last year as they prepared for demand over the festive season.

For example, while many are partying through the festive season, the owners behind some of the city's most popular bars have taken festive spirit in a different way. Arc Inspirations has made a donation to help support local charity, Zarach with ten bed bundles and ten food hampers.

Zarach was started by a Leeds primary school teacher after she noticed a child in her class had bed bugs because he was sleeping on an infested cushion. Zarach now deliver beds to children that live in poverty along with a mattress, duvet, pillow, bed sheets, pyjamas, and hygiene kit.

The Leeds Community Foundation addresses Holiday Hunger in Leeds through Healthy Holiday activities. It says that more than 33,000 children live in poverty in Leeds and with 20,000 children eligible for free school meals it means parents often skip a meal so that their children can eat during the school holidays. With funding from other organisations it stages school holiday activities in some of the most deprived parts of the city and includes a healthy meal for children to help alleviate the pressure on parents.

Meanwhile, the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust is back in action during the 2019/20 campaign, helping to support the two Trussell Trust foodbanks. A drop off point for donations of food or cash will be held ahead of each home game during the season. It is close to Bremner Square and the official club shop outside the stadium, in the same location as last season.

And help is also coming from the general public.

Ms Laurent said: "We had a gentleman come in, I don't know who he was, but he came to the office and brought a bag with a few items that he could afford. Even one packet will add up. Whether it is corporate donations of a car full or two tins, it all goes to a good place."

Demand

While demand is extra high at the moment it means that the foodbanks, which are distributing in the region of 5,000 tonnes of food a month each, will be desperately short of supplies again come February and March.

Karen Burgon is the manager at Leeds North and West branch. She said they were handing out around 900 parcels a month last year which rose to 1000 in December. However, figures for this year show a 30 per cent increase on the monthly demand so if that transpires for December then it is expected that around 1300 parcels will be distributed this month.

On average it costs £20 to put together a food parcel for a single person which has three days worth of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner; £35 for a couple and £52 for a family.

Ms Burgon added: "We are looking at the busiest year in the six years that we have been here. On the positive side we are seeing a huge increase in donations. It looks like we have a lot of food now and we are out of storage space but we were incredibly short in September and October and giving out 5,000 tonnes a month - it won't last. But I want to say a massive thankyou to all the people that responded to our appeal."

Background

The appeal may well be coming again soon as the need for people to access foodbanks increases - and the people in need might not necessarily be the people you think of first.

One disabled woman contacted the South and East for help after her daughter died and she was left with a huge funeral bill while one woman needed help after her daughter was in long term hospital care and she had to care for her premature baby grandchild.

Ms Laurent added: "The demand has increased and we have seen that it is people that are on low incomes now that are struggling. The cost of living is higher and there is a shortfall once they have paid bills, rent or mortgages. There is not a lot left for food.

"That is a shift, there is a misconception that we support homeless people and people on benefits but it is a real mix of people that we support."