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Feeding Families in County Durham inundated by Christmas hamper requests

A NORTH East food charity for struggling families has revealed the “heart-breaking” decision to turn families away this Christmas after seeing a “worrying trend” of thousands of extra people needing help.

Feeding Families, who are based in Durham, began in 2017 from humble beginnings – starting as a spreadsheet database and social media search that matched generous donors with families below the poverty line.

In its first year, despite only having the capacity to complete 50 food hampers, Feeding Families went above and beyond to get 720 completed and sent to those most in need over the festive period.

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With every year that’s gone by since, this figure of people needing help has more than doubled, with the charity assisting near to 20,000 families in the four years of its existence during the Christmas period.

Despite the high figures needing help seen previously – the Covid pandemic has accelerated the numbers requiring Christmas hampers from Feeding Families.

After seeing numbers “skyrocket” to 8000 families in 2020, the figures for this year are expected to be over 10,000 – but that’s not all.

The Northern Echo: In total, Feeding Families are going to have to provide 10,000 hampers this year and have capped it at that figure.In total, Feeding Families are going to have to provide 10,000 hampers this year and have capped it at that figure.

Due to the shortfall in donations this year, Feeding Families have had to cap the numbers at 10,000 and have even started turning vulnerable families away.

Juliet Sanders, CEO of Feeding Families, has now revealed the extent of having to limit numbers for this year’s hampers – with the charity revealing the “eye-opening experience” of having people “threatening to appeal the decision” to refuse them food this Christmas.

She told The Northern Echo: “We’ve seen an inundation of families like never before. There’s never a day that goes by that I don’t get numerous calls from people that need help.

“Each time, the stories of poverty and need are more than the people who have called before – it’s heart-breaking to have to turn people away, but we have a limit to what we can do.

“We can only give out what people donate to us – we don’t have an infinite stock of food items. People have approached us and have even asked us how to appeal the decision when we refuse them food.”

The Northern Echo: CEO of Feeding Families, Juliet Sanders, with boxes of food items.CEO of Feeding Families, Juliet Sanders, with boxes of food items.

As well as highlighting the worrying trend, Mrs Sanders has also urged people to come forward to donate and volunteer, in order for Feeding Families to do more for communities right across the North East.

Between now and December 15, 7000 hampers are going to be packed at the charities’ two packing centres in Byers Green, County Durham, and Lobley Hill in Gateshead – requiring people to sort, pack and distribute each of the hampers.

The CEO has also linked the lack of donations and volunteers this year, compared to 2020, with fewer people working from home and two years of the pandemic taking its toll financially on people.

The Northern Echo: The charity coordinate distribution from two centres at Byers Green, County Durham, and Gateshead. The charity coordinate distribution from two centres at Byers Green, County Durham, and Gateshead.

In total, Feeding Families are 700 donors short from in previous years as they head towards a crucial time in the charity operation.

Mrs Sanders added: “People’s circumstances have changed – a lot less emphasis is now on working from home, everyone is struggling, but people in need and below the poverty line are still there.

“We’re there to fill the gaps with our partner agencies – but need the help of everyone in our communities to dig deep. Taking care of people is the most vital thing we can do this Christmas.

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“Feeding Families need more volunteers, more donations, but don’t forget, we’re only a small charity. There’s only one full-time member of staff and the rest of the volunteers do it out of the goodness of their hearts.

“The donation schedule is a geographical nightmare, so whatever help we can get will be greatly appreciated. We must help those that are most in poverty and most vulnerable to give them a Christmas this year.”

To find out how to give a hand to Feeding Families, visit them at https://feedingfamilies.org.uk/.

After learning that Feeding Families have had to stop accepting requests from people in the community, Mary Kelly Foy, MP for City of Durham, has expressed her "disappointment" at both the Universal Credit cuts and food poverty systems locally and nationally.

She said: “Feeding Families carry out such important work in Durham and across the North East for people who are experiencing food poverty.

"In the last year alone, they have donated 140,000 meals to people, showing just how deep rooted the issue of food poverty is in our communities.

"I was disappointed to hear that they have had to stop accepting requests from people to be recipients of their Christmas hamper appeal due to a lack of donations.

The Northern Echo: MP for City of Durham, Mary Kelly Foy.MP for City of Durham, Mary Kelly Foy.

"There are no doubt many factors which are contributing to this as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, but the recent cut to Universal Credit will no doubt be having a huge impact on the increase in usage of foodbanks and reliance on the support of charities, as well as impacting the drop in donations to many organisations such as Feeding Families."

The Member of Parliament has also accused the Government of "sticking plasters to the issue of food poverty".

She added: "The harsh reality is, until there is a proper plan to tackle the issue along with actual evidence of levelling up the North East being a priority, we will continue to see a rise in the number of people who rely on charities such as Feeding Families to put food on their tables.”

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