FOODBANKS UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: Advice to help sort benefit problems

A CITIZENS Advice employee will be based at Rotherham Foodbank — as figures show nearly one-third of referrals come from delays in benefit payments.

A pilot run-through was carried out last week ahead of the arrangement beginning later in the summer — as the charity run by Hope Church faces the daunting prospect of winter with a worsened cost of living crisis.

Rotherham Foodbank is part of a national network under the Trussell Trust, which has secured funding for the Citizens Advice post.

“It’s our most exciting piece of recent news,” said foodbank manager Victoria Morris. It’s for two years initially, and we’re hoping for a third.

“It will mean that we can directly check what the problems have been with people’s benefits being delayed, and hopefully unstick some of those problems in the system.”

A more visible imminent change will be Hope Church and the foodbank moving premises from the current Grove Road base, which has been sold for housing.

But the developers turning the 1920s former council office block have allowed a 12-month grace period as a new building is sought.

The church is also in need of bigger premises as the congregation has doubled to nearly 200 since the beginning of the pandemic, which has also helped bring in more support for the foodbank.

Rotherham Foodbank was 22 per cent busier between January and March compared with the same period in 2020.

Last Tuesday there were 58 parcels given out — the expected daily number of collections in 2019 was about 19.

Victoria, who has taken over as former manager Steve Prosser becomes associate church pastor, said it was important to note that the increase was partly because of an improved referral system.

But summer usually sees a lull in donations — before the Harvest Festival involving 30 schools and the Christmas peak period for dropping off food items.

So there is a current push for more support from businesses, with Crossroads Truck & Bus at Canklow Meadows and Porsche at Sheffield recently signing up.

With stock lower than at other times in the year, cash donations allow the foodbank to manage demand for particular foodstuffs — and the amounts can be upped with Gift Aid.

Victoria said: “We’ve never bought food in but last week I had to spend £700 because we’ve had this increase in collections.

“We needed mainstays like tea, coffee, pasta, rice, long-life milk and some tinned vegetables.

“Having the cash donated allows us to manage this and bring in what we need.”

Also planned for the future is an increase in the signposting efforts — rather than simply handing out food — and cooking classes and a walking group are set to begin.

Voluntary Action Rotherham is in the process of creating a database of the total numbers in Rotherham collecting food parcels, to identify trends and allow charities to better collaborate.

Individuals and businesses wishing to support the foodbank can call 01709 372104 or email [email protected].