Food rush expected soon

SARAH FOY
Last updated 05:00 15/01/2014

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North Taranaki food banks expect demand to soar in January and February as Christmas spending and return to school costs kick in. But an organised network of business and public support means they're stocked and ready to give.

New Plymouth co-ordinator Mike Merrick said December was quieter than expected with 74 clients helped, however within days of opening for the New Year, 24 clients had been serviced. In January 2012 the figure was 90 - last year 89 people sought assistance.

"We would expect that pattern to be repeated though as kids start to go back to school and parents' costs increase, starting with stationery, fees and school camps."

Lieutenant Fiona Stuart, community ministries manager of the New Plymouth Salvation Army, said Christmas was busy for the church-based food bank with 65 hampers and gifts distributed, compared to about 40 the previous year. On top of that, other clients received regular food assistance.

"It will increase. Across the Salvation Army nationwide this is a busy time because people have overspent over Christmas or had food supplies drop as extras stayed in their house, and then in February there's a huge drain on our food banks."

As well as giving practical assistance the church was a listening ear as people sorted out relationship issues.

"All these are stressful things that often come to a head over Christmas and summer time."

While last summer's figures were relatively light at 44 parcels in January and 46 in February, numbers more than doubled over the winter months.

A new trend during the year was working families forced to seek food bank help because an adult had lost income from reduced work hours.

Mrs Stuart had only been in the job a year and had yet to build up her local data. However, she said nationally her colleagues were reporting the same stories.

Inglewood's food bank is less likely to see rising demand in January and February, said co-ordinator Frances Rowson. Rather, a changing clientele means need remains steady year round.

Twelve boxes of Christmas goodies were delivered for the festive season as well as regular food assistance provided. Mrs Rowson said she believed benefit changes introduced last July were starting to affect older people previously immune from community assistance.

"We have given out a lot more single parcels for older men. They might have been on ACC but the changes have pushed them onto a new benefit and they're suffering."

Tradionally, solo parents were the food bank's biggest bracket of clients, now they're in a minority, she said.

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"I think there's a hidden class coming through that we haven't associated as struggling."

Inglewood supermarket Shoprite support the food bank, providing a drop off point for public donations, ordering in supplies and alerting its staff to specials.

The local Catholic church makes weekly donations, and the town's yearly food drive ensures shelves are fully stocked.

Waitara's food bank co-ordinator Helen Johnson, said demand was low with just 11 parcels given out in December, on top of specially donated Christmas packages.

"We are expecting a bit of build-up when kids go back to school . . . but we can't understand why it's been so quiet. It's quite unusual."

Both the New Plymouth and Salvation Army food banks are backed by supermarkets. Pak n' Save New Plymouth donates all its excess bread and non-perishable items to the New Plymouth organisation while Countdown gives weekly to the Salvation Army. New World donates supermarket bags, provides a bin for donations and goods from time to time.

Bakeries in town are also regular benefactors, said Mrs Stuart, while a church garden gives in-season vegies.

Other food drives, one-off donations from churches, schools or other groups, supplement stock. At this time of the year the church also provides stationery vouchers.In Waitara, New World supermarket is supportive while Methanex donates goods, vouchers and cash each Christmas time, said Mrs Johnson.

- Taranaki Daily News

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