‘Asking for help is the right thing to do’ says Foyle Foodbank manager

James McMenamin, manager of the Foyle Foodbank.  DER2619GS-054
James McMenamin, manager of the Foyle Foodbank. DER2619GS-054

As Foyle Foodbank enters into its busiest time of year, those who find themselves in need of its support are being urged to come forward and ask for help.

The vital facility, which helps people of all ages right across the city and surrounding areas, first opened three years ago in response to an ever-increasing need.

Each year, it helps more and more men, women and children. Since January, Foyle Food Bank has provided support to 912 families, which breaks down to 1,497 adults, and 1,036 children, which is 2,533 people in total. This is an increase so far of 200 extra families compared to last year. This is all before its busiest period leading up to Christmas and its appeal for the festive season is to launch next week.

Manager James McMenamin said the ‘main goal is to see the end of the food bank,’ in that there should not be a need for it. However, while need is there and ever increasing in Derry, no-one should ever feel like they can’t ask for help.

While the foodbank provides food and items such as nappies and sanitary items, it also operates a ‘multi agency approach’ in that it works alongside and signposts people to other groups that can help them. These might include a counsellor, bereavement support and benefit and debt advice, among others.

“It’s not just about the food,” said James. “The food sometimes is only papering over an issue or is as a result of one. We do three parcels within a six month period (although in circumstances such as a wait for Universal Credit this can be extended.) This is to take away the dependency in that we want to enable the person to be able to help themselves too, as such.”

While there can be an incorrect view among the public that a foodbank is used by certain people and they will never need it, James said this is not the case. “The food bank is not for any one person, it’s for everyone. We’ve our referral agencies that issue vouchers on our behalf and it’s right across the city and its surrounding areas. It’s incorrect that we only see one group. We see people of all ages and it’s a big broad range. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, where you’re from, what creed or age, food poverty doesn’t choose who you are or what you are.”

James told how they are increasingly providing support to low income families and added how one group of people they want to reach out to is pensioners aged 65 plus.

“The numbers coming through in this group are very low. I helped one lady and her response to me was: ‘Somebody younger needs that.’ I explained to her that’s not the case and she is just as important as anyone else.”

James said some people believe there is still stigma around foodbanks and this can create a barrier in some people asking for help. But this is decreasing and there is never any shame in asking for support. In fact, it is better to ask for help than ‘suffer in silence.’ On many occasions, the support needed is temporary and Foyle Foodbank, along with its referral agencies - like Dove House, Hillcrest and Caw Nelson Drive, as well as the advisors that work alongside it will ‘help you through.’

The food bank also provides courses such as Cooking on a Budget and also refers to the Social Supermarket, run by Apex, which also provides the premises and is a great support.

Also of phenomenal support is the Derry public, who consistently donate to the collection points at Tesco in Strand Road and Sainsburys. A recent Flag Day collected £1739.38p and 30 euro. There is also a new collection point at the foodbank building, where donations can be left to be collected the following morning. And the food bank itself is laid out just like a supermarket, so people can choose the foods they like.

Local businesses also undertake regular collections and supply volunteers and James said they are incredibly grateful to everyone for their support. The foodbank’s dedicated team of volunteers are also invaluable and were hard at work when the Journal visited this week.

James highlighted how every donation makes a difference. For example, shower gel or hygiene products could determine whether someone feels confident and gets a job at interview.

James told how Derry ‘recognises and acknowledges the need for the foodbank.’

“Everyone has struggled at one time. There is no shame in coming here. Asking for help is the right thing to do, for you and for your family. You’ll be welcomed with a cup of tea or coffee and we will talk to and support anyone.”

As it comes up to Christmas, that support is needed more than ever. “People are having to choose between food, heat, rent and presents. No-one should have to do that. We can help.”

You can contact Foyle Food Bank on Facebook or call 028 7126 3699.