Volunteers who help to feed the homeless and those experiencing food poverty in Lancaster have been celebrated at an event in the city.
Lancaster District Homeless Action Service (LDHAS) has paid tribute to more than 40 volunteers who give up their time to ensure those in need get a decent meal.
The Edward Street based organisation said that food poverty in the Lancaster district was on the rise, and that “benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax hadn’t helped”.
Damian Altham, 34, from Lancaster, was recently homeless, and said he received a lot of help from the service.
He has since started working as a volunteer in the kitchen at Edward Street, and at The Ark in Lancaster, which also offers food to those in need.
He said: “I was living in Morecambe and I became homeless. I was going through a rough patch and when I first came I thought ‘what on earth am I doing here?’ But they’ve helped me a lot, so it’s good to give back.
“Now I’m pretty settled, but no-one should have to live in a world of fear, not knowing what is going to happen to you, and all these changes to benefits and the sanctions are not a good thing. Don’t sit in silence, there is help out there.”
LDHAS has just taken receipt of a new commercial oven, following a donation from EDF at Heysham Power Stations, and is working with Booths Supermarket to provide food for the needy.
Sandra O’Neill, accounts administrator at LDHAS said that Marks & Spencer had also just got on board, providing fresh food that had passed its sell by date.
The event at Edward Street last Friday was to say thanks to everyone involved in ensuring the service could continue to run.
Sandra said: “This event is about saying thanks to all the volunteers who have run the food service for the last 18 months.
“It is central to what we do here, and we rely heavily on food donations and the goodwill of people and businesses in Lancaster.
“Booths has food banks set up in six of their stores, donated to by customers, and this has been collected once a fortnight since June last year.
“It’s made a massive difference. We can use some of it for breakfasts and lunches that we provide every day, and also the five other organisations we provide food to - including the Olive Branch, The Ark, and Marsh Community Centre in Lancaster, and Morecambe Homeless Action.
“We also provide food parcels to people experiencing food poverty, mostly those on benefits, quite often families, and take a lot of food to a school for children with special needs. There has definitely been an increase in food poverty - and benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax haven’t helped.”
Angela Charnock, an intensive support worker at LDHAS, works with people with the most challenging situations and lives.
She said: “I deal with people who have been on the street suffering the most hardship. We adapt food parcels according to people’s needs, some may not have cooking facilities for example.
Marks & Spencer have come on board and they are going to provide us with fresh food - meat and fruit - the fresh stuff is going to be great. It can be quite challenging logistically, but it means we can provide people with a healthy meal.
Sandra said that food poverty had to be addressed in a different way.
She added: “The need is always going to be there, and with Universal Credit coming in, I think we’ll see an increase in people struggling with their budgets. The majority of our clients are quite frightened about what is going to happen, but hopefully we can continue to help our regular clients.
“In particular we want to thank EDF for the donation of the cooker, Booths who supply the food, Speights of Lancaster who supply potatoes, the Churches, and Lancaster Round Table.
“Without that help we couldn’t do what we do.”