Many of us think of poverty as a foreign phenomena confined to third world countries and Dickensian orphans, but Star reporter Rachael Clegg discovers the ‘hidden hungry’ of South Yorkshire and meets a man on a mission to tackle it
WHEN we think of poverty, some of us might picture starving children in Ethiopia or Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
But, sadly, poverty is much closer to home.
You don’t have to look back to Victorian Britain to find children going hungry.
South Yorkshire has some of the most poverty-stricken areas in the whole of the UK.
And Rotherham is one of the worst affected boroughs.
It’s not the usual suspects either. Most of us associate poverty with third world countries, drug addicts and homeless people – but in today’s economic climate, the working man is as much a victim of economic hardship as the man on the street.
Known as the ‘hidden hungry’, it’s this group of people that the Trussell Trust charity aims to help by providing food boxes, distributed from various Trussell Trust centres across the UK. The charity has headquarters all over the UK, even in areas perceived to be affluent, such as Salisbury and Cambridge. But none, remarkably, in Yorkshire.
Not until now anyway.
This week the Trussell Trust has set up its first Yorkshire HQ at Eastwood View Community Centre in Eastwood, Rotherham in conjunction with the local Hope Church. And here, in just a few months’ time, dozens of volunteers will assemble food boxes for Rotherham’s financially desperate families.
The man behind bringing the Trussell Trust to Rotherham is minister Reverend Danny Miller, who wants to help Rotherham families facing hardship and poverty.
He said: “As a church we want to reach out and be relevant to people. It’s all very well giving the message of the Gospel and that’s great but we also need to feed people. I don’t want to tell people about the Lord and leave them hungry.”
Inspiration to join forces with the Trussell Trust came to Danny just as the UK’s inflation started to soar.
He said: “With rising food prices and the cost of living being so high many families are struggling and have been for months.
“Food is the first thing to go after mortgage and credit cards payments and the people most affected by this are children.”
Danny has empathy for people in this situation.
“We’ve all felt the pinch in the past few months with rising living costs, but it’s particularly hard for families on low wages or single parents – Rotherham has the highest proportion of people on minimum wage in the country with 31 per cent of the borough’s population on a wage that pays less than £7 an hour – that’s almost one third of the population.
“Nationally the proportion of people on £7 an hour or less is one fifth.”
The Rotherham Trussell Trust will work in conjunction with social services, such as local GPs, police, women’s shelters and other local organisations.
As a result of working with these organisations Danny will be able to direct people to the help they need.
“We’ll have a team of volunteers working here so when people come along for their food parcels they will be able to talk about their problems and get advice at the same time.”
People using the service will also be given a hot meal and a cup of tea.
“We will need lots of volunteers to get this off the ground, including volunteers to cook food at the base, to collect food from warehouses and volunteers at supermarkets asking people to spare any tinned food. We’ll also need volunteers to look at grants and what funding we can get.”
The Rotherham Trussell Trust base will open officially this summer and Danny is confident it will gain strong support from the community.
“This is a local cause to help the local community. I am from Plymouth and am amazed at how friendly and helpful people are up here,” he said.
“They say that in a church you get 20 per cent of the people doing 80 per cent of the work but up here I have about 95 per cent of the people doing most of the work. It’s brilliant. People have such good hearts in Rotherham.”
The food boxes will be assembled by volunteers and will contain enough food for three days.
Each food box contains milk, 500 grams of sugar, fruit juice, soup, pasta sauces, tinned sponge pudding, tinned rice pudding, cereals, tea bags, instant coffee, rice, pasta, tinned meat or fish, jam and biscuits or snack bars.
“That’s the amount of time it takes social services to respond to a family in crisis so the food box should see them through the days in which they are waiting for relief,” said Danny.
And it’s not any old combination of tins in the boxes. The contents of each box has been carefully researched by the Primary Care Trust, as the charity’s food bank director Jeremy Ravn, explained.
“The food in the boxes provide a balanced diet for three days. There are tins of fruit, tea, chocolate, vegetables and pasta – enough for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a family.”
Food boxes must be exchanged for a voucher, which can be issued by a GP or social services.
“Many of the people using our service are what we call the ‘hidden hungry’,” said Jeremy.
“These are people who live in their own accommodation but haven’t got enough money to feed their families. Throughout the recession we’ve seen an increase in the rate of food box take-up.”
Danny believes the charity will help his parish and Rotherham as a whole. “This is our Jerusalem – this is our home. Before we start looking at helping the rest of the world we need to help our own community.”
The Trussell Trust charity can be found at http://www.trusselltrust.org/
The charity welcomes food donations as well as volunteers to help with the service.
The Rotherham base for the charity opens this summer. For details call The Hope Church, Eastwood, on 01709 839840.