THE economy may be seeing signs of recovery, but it is not slowing the number of people using food banks in south Essex, campaigners warn.
Although unemployment is at its lowest level for five years, food banks in south Essex remain as busy as ever.
Charities and campaign groups behind the food banks argue the upturn in the nation’s fortunes has not changed the circumstances of the lowest paid and unemployed.
Andy Goodliff, 33, is the Baptist minister at Belle Vue Church in Southchurch Road, Southend, and runs a food bank backed by Christian charity the Trussell Trust.
Twice a week it serves three days’ worth of food to people who are referred by doctors, social workers and voluntary organisations.
Mr Goodliff said the need for food banks was becoming so pronounced, the church was discussing widening its scope to cover the Leigh area as well.
He said: “We’ve only been here about six months, but even in that time we’ve definitely been growing in terms of the amount of food we supply.
“We’ve now provided for 700 people and, a few weeks ago, 27 people turned up with food parcel vouchers, which is the most we’ve ever had in one sitting.
“We opened the food bank on November 1, to meet the needs of people living in the Southchurch area, but that’s quickly grown.
“We are now in conversations with local churches regarding extending our boundaries to cover areas like Leigh as well.”
He said the public’s perception of people who find themselves in need of food banks was not always accurate – with many people finding themselves in crisis over unexpected expenses.
Mr Goodliff said: “Often the people you are helping are not the ones you would expect.
“These are people living in homes and often have jobs but, for whatever reason, find themselves suddenly without enough money that week to be able to provide for themselves and their families.”
John Williams, 37, is project manager of Southend charity Storehouse and said many of the 600 people a week the organisation provides for at its Coleman Street premises were also working people temporarily falling on hard times.
But he said overall numbers had “stabilised” following an alltime high in 2012.
He added: “Things have stabilised and I think we are probably at the last point of food bank need at the moment. I believe things are going to turn over in the next couple of years.
“But long-termneed has grown, such as people knowing they are going to go without food for a long period of time, in which case we have to refer them to other organisations because we provide a sticking plaster to the problem, not a long-term solution.”
However, this is exactly what Mr Goodliff fears food banks will have to become in the future.
He said: “If things continue as they are, there’s a danger food banks become a permanent feature of the landscape.”