BY MICHAEL RUSSELL firstname.lastname@example.org
Food banks in Stornoway and Kyle are expecting a rush of people next week when the public agencies reopen after the Christmas holidays.
Gavin Lawson, a volunteer at the Eilean Siar Food Bank in Point Street, Stornoway, said that because the system operated by referrals from agencies such as the local council and Citizens Advice Bureau only two people came in off the street last week for emergency food packages.
“We had 30 in the week before Christmas,” he added. “Once the public agencies open up then we are going to be very busy again. People may have budgeted for Christmas but some will have over-extended themselves and that will start to kick in after Hogmanay.”
Mr Lawson also said that the service was looking to set up distribution centres in Uist and Barra. At the moment, the food bank provide packages for the public agencies to distribute in the Southern Isles.
“The big problem on Barra is the lack of office space,” he added.
In the run-up to Christmas the Point Street food bank provided emergency help to one young woman whose benefits had been stopped for three months by the Benefits Agency, said Mr Lawson, while another recipient, a young man, had a single candle in his bedroom for heating as he could not afford electricity.
He added: “Any changes to the benefit system which either restricts income or puts more barriers in the way of people accessing benefits is going to have an effect on the number of people using food banks.
“In the Western Isles our rates of fuel poverty are double the national average and people have to decide whether or not to turn the heating on or buy food and this also has a huge impact on the demand for the food bank.”
Mr Lawson praised the generosity of locals and said that the food bank currently had almost five tonnes of provisions in storage.
Lesley Edmonds, chair of the steering committee of Kyle and South Skye Food Bank, said although they were not due to officially open until Friday 10th January they were required to send out three emergency food packages on Christmas Eve — one to Kyle and two to Sleat.
“We have got between a quarter and half a tonne in stock and next week should be busier because people have been struggling with Christmas,” she added.
Ms Edmonds also said that Highland Council social services staff in Portree had asked local churches to set up a food bank in the village.
The Eilean Siar Food Bank is a partnership between the New Wine Church and the Trussell Trust.