FOR some desperate families across Bournemouth and Poole this Christmas, dinner came in a cardboard box.

Foodbank and soup kitchen organisers say demand for their help is continuing to soar as more and more people struggle to make ends meet.

Last month charity The Trussell Trust said the number of people using its 400 foodbanks nationally had trebled over the previous six months to 350,000, compared with the same period last year.

Debbie Bramley, who runs Bournemouth Foodbank in Charminster, said they were currently feeding around 250 families a week.

Each is only allowed to use the service three times over six months, and a food parcel only lasts about three days.

“The numbers are definitely up since the welfare reforms in April, people are finding it really hard to pay the bills and look after their families,” she said.

“We have all sorts of people from homeless to working families, many of whom have seen their benefits cut and can’t manage on what they are earning.

“People have to be referred to use the food bank and it is only for use in a crisis, not to sustain them long term. But they come back in and say the service saved their lives, not just with the food but by providing advice and someone to talk to.”

Claire Matthews, whose Hope for Food organisation serves up hot meals to hungry people in Bournemouth two nights a week, said: “We are getting between 75 to 85 people per night. The numbers have been growing and growing since we started in February.”

On Christmas Eve, Dorset Hall of Fame award-winner Miss Matthews and her team organised a festive dinner for the homeless and hungry at Richmond Hill St Andrew’s United Reformed Church.

Despite the stereotype of a soup kitchen user, she said only about 30 per cent of their visitors were homeless.

“Most have homes, and some have part time jobs but still have to come here to eat,” she said.

“I don’t understand how in this century people are living like it’s the Third World, and having to queue up in the rain for food.”

‘Welfare reforms exacerbate problem’

MANY foodbank and soup kitchen users told the Daily Echo that welfare reforms introduced since April had exacerbated their problems.

From April 1 council tax benefit funding was reduced by 10 per cent nationally, and in July a wide ranging benefits cap was introduced for the unemployed, restricting weekly income to a maximum of £500 per week for couples, or £350 per week for single people.

The cap included housing benefit payments, which are also cut by up to 25 per cent by the ‘bedroom tax’ where people in social housing have unused bedrooms.

Also in April the disability living allowance was replaced with the personal independence payment, with a more demanding assessment process. Six means-tested benefits, including housing, jobseekers allowance and income support, will eventually be combined into universal credit.

The government has said its aims are to simplify the system and reduce errors and fraudulent claims.

More help is needed

A RENEWED appeal has gone out for people to support local food charities with donations and time.

Volunteers from Hope for Food have been doing their own fundraising.

Elisa Cole, 34, is attempting a sponsored exercise and healthy eating challenge to help get the soup kitchen users a proper shelter.

Mrs Cole, who lives in Wallisdown with her husband and three children, said: “I want to raise as much money towards a proper shelter as possible, and I want to be healthy for my kids.

“At the moment I am more than 18 stone so there is a long way to go, but I have stuck with it so far. I have to be fit enough for the Bournemouth Bay Run next year.”

Visit Elisa and Paul’s Fitness Challenge for Charity on Facebook for more information, and email .uk to help out in other ways.

Bournemouth Foodbank gives away 1.5 to 2 tonnes of food a week, much of which is donated by schools and churches.

Volunteers spend around £200 a week from collections on extra items.

Organiser Debbie Bramley said despite “tremendous” support from supermarkets, businesses and local Rotary clubs, it was still a struggle to keep up with demand.

“We get a lot of certain items, particularly cereal, tea and tins of beans. We really don’t need any more beans,” she said.

“But there is a shortage of tinned fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, UHT milk, coffee and toiletries.

“We are also looking for a larger venue at the moment, ideally with an area for people to sit and chat.”

Call 01202 900979 to donate, or food can be dropped off at Bournemouth Foodbank in St Leonard’s Road, or at Trussell Trust shops in Boscombe and Winton.

In a bid to boost supplies, Medi Bernard, Bournemouth Council’s head of libraries, has arranged for all of the town’s libraries to be food collection points.

Since the government abolished crisis loans in April, the council has introduced a £1 million Local Welfare Assistance Fund, with an extra £500,000 earmarked for support during the gradual roll-out of universal credit.

Applications to the fund can be made at

Soup kitchens are lifelines

FORMER IT manager James has gone from a high-income, high pressure career to using the Hope for Food in a matter of months.

The 28-year-old said he had never known such places existed until losing his job forced him to start visiting the soup kitchen twice a week back in August.

Once a strategic partnership manager in London, he is now working part-time and dependent on housing benefit and jobseekers’ allowance payments.

“Bournemouth is not a cheap place to live, and after I have paid the rent remaining after housing benefit, and my travel costs for work and interviews, there isn’t enough left to buy food,” he said.

“It has been quite a shock. But Hope for Food is great for giving people a bit of independence so they can get their lives back on track.”

LOUIS Dammers, pictured, was a fork lift truck driver for 22 years until he lost his job after being diagnosed with depression.

He now relies on benefits to pay his rent, bills, food and to contribute to the upkeep of his three youngsters who live in Hampshire with their mum.

The 48-year-old, who was born in Bournemouth, described the Hope for Food soup kitchen as a lifeline after his benefits were cut.

“I have been using the service since April and it has been a real lifeline,” he said.

“Like many others here I can’t afford to live on the money I am getting any more. I have lost about £45 a week.”

He said the most severe cut was to his housing benefit, which he now has to top up.

“If it wasn’t for the soup kitchen the homeless and people in my position would be in real trouble,” he added.

POOLE resident Mike lost his job as a business to business broker 18 months ago and initially thought he could enjoy a short holiday before snapping up a new job.

However the 45-year-old was quickly left struggling to pay his bills as once-numerous job offers dried up.

He said he had never imagined using Bournemouth Foodbank, and might even have turned his nose up at the idea, but doing so had been an eye-opening experience.

“They say you aren’t more than a couple of paycheques away from the streets,” he said.

“It all starts getting on top of you and it happens very quickly. And you get depressed and don’t want to talk to people about it.

“People don’t seem to realise this happens to people who work really hard.”

Mike, who got a new job this month, said when his first paycheque comes through he is going to have a beer to celebrate, and take a parcel of food round to the food bank in thanks.