A charity set up to send food parcels to impoverished Eastern European countries has been forced to re-direct aid to desperate people living below the breadline – in DEVON.
Aid workers have been busy delivering food parcels to residents in Okehampton, Devon, after the town suffered a huge surge in unemployment.
Hundreds who lost their jobs are now living under the poverty line and find themselves struggling to feed and clothe themselves.
Three factories recently closed in Okehampton resulting in 350 redundancies in the last month alone – which represents five per cent of the town’s population.
Total unemployment in the town has how jumped from 1.9 per cent in February to a staggering 11.6 per cent.
The charity, which is run by churches and volunteers from local businesses, has seen demand for ”essential food” like cereal and tinned goods, rocket from serving 20 people a week to over 200.
Okehampton Town Councillor Kay Bickley help set up the centre – which also has a weekly drop in service – three years ago.
She has been stunned by the huge increase in demand which she described as a ”tragic situation”.
Coun Bickley said: ”There has been a huge rise in people needing short-term help.
”The people of Okehampton have pride and want to work but circumstances have led a lot of families into a devastating situation, which we are trying to help with.
”It takes a lot of courage to admit you are struggling financially and we don’t want people to feel stigmatised.
”A lot of the time when people come in they see their old friends from the factory floor and it can actually have quite a real community feel.
”One of the most upsetting things I have seen is when two parents were both employed by the factories. One of the factories, which went into administration six weeks ago, didn’t pay its employees for the last two weeks so some families have been two months with no income.
”It can take a while to sort out benefits you are entitled to, so in the meantime they are forced to live on handouts.
”It is a shock to find ourselves living in such a tragic situation, the unemployment figures do not even take into account those on incapacity benefits or who are unable to work.”
Okehampton, which is located on the outskirts of Dartmoor, Devon, has a population of around 7,000 people, 700 of which are now unemployed.
The situation worsened dramatically this year after the Robert Wiseman milk factory closed along with Browns Chocolate and Polestar desserts, resulting in the loss of over 350 jobs.
This left over 700 people in the small town unemployed, with many struggling to make ends meet.
And every week, around 50 families contact the charity, which is part of the national Trussle Trust, for help.
The Trussle Trust usually helps relieve families in Romania and Bulgaria, although has been helping those closer to home after the economic collapse in Okehampton.
Councillor Mike Davies, who also helps run the food bank, said: ”For many people in this town at the moment there is simply no money coming in.
”How are they going to pay the rent or the mortgage? How are they going to live. There is a mood of genuine fear in the town at the moment.”
The charity relies on donations from supermarkets, schools, businesses and individuals and distributes non-perishable goods to individuals around the town.
Volunteers work from their headquarters at OK Leisure in the town and ferry goods to needy families in the area but are desperate for donations.
Andrew Morgan, who also helps at the food bank, added: ”We are still appealing for food.
”It is desperately needed, some staff made redundant hadn’t been paid for weeks – there really are people with no money and they really can’t put food on the table.”
Husband and wife Mary and Nick Wonnacott, of Okehampton, both worked for Polestar for more than 15 years before losing their jobs last month.
They described the food bank as a ”godsend” without which they could not have managed.
Mary said: ”We’ve had four weeks where we’ve had to manage with no income at all, so this has been a wonderful boon for us.”