Newtownabbey’s first foodbank was officially opened at Carnmoney Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, April 14 by Mayor Thomas Hogg.
The foodbank has been stocked with four tonnes of food in preparation for distribution to families and individuals in crisis.
It was developed from the Helping Hands Food Ministry, which has been run by Mina McKinney from Carnmoney Presbyterian for the last six years.
Carnmoney Presbyterian is the lead church in a partnership with the Trussell Trust and churches across the Newtownabbey area.
The response from neighbouring churches has been described as “overwhelming” and enthusiasm for supporting the foodbank is said to have been “really encouraging”.
Upwards of 15 churches in the local area have been involved in collecting donations of mainly dried food for this cross-community venture.
Food is donated by the congregations and brought to the food store where it is sorted into emergency food boxes for distribution.
The initiative is also supported by Tesco supermarket and customers.
“Food is also donated by generous members of the general public through public appeals at Tesco Northcott,” said Mina, who was the 2014 Newtownabbey Volunteer of the Year.
“Tesco staff have been extremely supportive of the project.”
A donation of £1,000 was received on Tuesday morning ahead of the launch from Mallusk-based food distribution company Henderson Group.
Mrs McKinney, manager of Newtownabbey Foodbank, reported that Helping Hands assist approximately 16 families weekly,
She indicated that 350 hampers had been distributed at Christmas.
Mina said: “There are so many people in need that we are just trying to feed them all.
“We could not believe it when a minister told us that a homeless person who had called with him said that he had not eaten for three days.”
Food will be issued on receipt of a voucher, which individuals can obtain from a social worker, health visitor, minister, doctor, Citizens’ Advice Bureau and some schools.
However, Mina stressed that no-one will be turned away.
She pointed out that the foodbank is much more than a food distribution centre.
“Although we will never turn anyone away, people really need to come through an agency.
“We are here to help them find the food they need. We have trained counsellors here. We are like a signposting service.
“It is not just a foodbank. It is much more than that.
“We have only been serving a small area previously but there is real need.”
Newtownabbey Foodbank will be open on Monday afternoons, from 2pm until 4.30pm and Wednesday evenings, from 6.30pm until 9pm.
A team of volunteers will be available to meet demand during opening hours.
They will distribute food boxes according to the number of requests received, assisted by members of participating congregations who will bring all food to Carnmoney Presbyterian and return parcels according to demand across the district.