Craigavon Food Bank helps an amazing 1,200 people in 2013

An amazing total of 1,200 people received emergency help from the Craigavon Food Bank during 2013.

And as the caring group marks its first anniversary this week, the officers estimate that the shocking statistic will be doubled over the next 12 months.

“Our organisation is simply the tip of the poverty iceberg,” said Chris Leech, chair of the Craigavon Food Bank, speaking from the main store at Carn Industrial Estate. “We give purely emergency food relief to tide people over and then we refer them to various agencies, like debt and addition groups, to help in the long term. The need for a group like ours is growing all the time.”

The food bank depends entirely on volunteers – both to donate the food (all unperishable goods) and to man the three distributions centres, in Portadown, the central area and in Lurgan.

“There are 60 volunteers among the four facilities,” said Mr Leech. “And more are always welcome.”

He gave a wide range of reasons why so many people are dependent on facilities like the food bank – 40 per cent are due to the delays and changes in benefits, plus the swingeing cuts, with another 20 per cent on low income. “The recession means that salaries and pay are extremely low, especially with various work contracts,” said Mr Leech. “But it has to be said that many companies are taking advantage.”

He added that the “singles” aspect of life was having an effect, not just the single parents phenomenon, but that people living on their own were had no-one to share expenses like rent, lighting and heating. “A lot of modern-day social aspects are playing a role,” he added.

Deputy Mayor Colin McCusker helped the group mark its first anniversary at the weekend when he called at Carn, and commented, “It is unfortunate that our society requires food banks, but we are living through very difficult economic times.

“To have fed over 1200 people during its first year is something to be proud of. I commend the food bank for their hard work and dedication to the community, and would encourage anyone who has some spare time to get involved.”

And this weekend, the giant Tesco supermarket is getting involved in the UK-wide food bank organisation, including their stores in Portadown, Craigavon and Lurgan.

Everyone shopping in the stores is asked to buy an extra item – as shown on the food bank lists in Tesco – and place it in the trolley provided for the purpose.

Tesco will add 30 per cent of items to the total brought and all will be handed over to the food bank.

Most local churches can also put prospective volunteers in touch.