A new foodbank recently set up in Newtownabbey will prevent as many as 350 local families from going hungry this Christmas.
The Newtownabbey Foodbank has grown out of the Helping Hands foodbank run by Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, which distributed around 1,000 hampers to families in need throughout 2014.
While Helping Hands catered mainly for the Carnmoney area, the Newtownabbey Foodbank was set up by Mina McKinney to help people across the borough, and will officially launch in the New Year.
Project co-ordinator Mina, who won the 2014 Newtownabbey Volunteer of the Year award, told the Times: “After I won the award I felt I was being led down the road of creating a foodbank to cater for the whole of Newtownabbey. The Trussell Trust, who I had been in contact with, rang and we decided to set it up.
“For the Helping Hands foodbank, food was donated by Carnmoney Presbyterian Church and we supplied Women’s Aid, Social Services and our own pastoral care team.
“The Newtownabbey Foodbank will work with Carnmoney Presbyterian, Ballyclare Presbyterian, Ballyclare Methodist, Ballynure Methodist, Ballyeaston Methodist, St. John’s Parish, Abbey Presbyterian, Abbots Cross Presbyterian, Carnmoney Parish and The People’s Church, Mallusk.
“Donations are coming from the churches and we recently lifted two-and-a-half tonnes of food from Tesco at Northcott. We have supplied 100 hampers to the People’s Church in Mallusk, around 50 to Ballyclare Presbyterian Church, Age NI will get 20, Abbey Presbyterian Church will get three, Abbots Cross will get ten and the rest will be collected by Christians Against Poverty (CAP).”
Each hamper contains enough protein-based long-life food to last for three days, such as canned goods, soup, vegetables and dried foods. Agencies such as CAP, social services and Child Services refer those in need to the facility.
Mina says there is “great need” for foodbank services in Newtownabbey.
“People don’t believe it, but there is a big need,” she continued. “Six years ago I would have said we would only be around for a few years, now I think we have a few years still to go.
“I would say things have got worse. We have more people needing hampers than ever. We are distributing around 20 a week.”
Mina says that business closures, job losses, payday loans and debt are contributing to the growing need for food banks.
“There is still a stigma attached to foodbanks. No-one wants to walk into it and say they don’t have anything. People are proud. Parents would go without food for their children, people have nothing.
“Last year there was one girl who was pregnant and who already had a little boy but her partner had left. We were able to kit her out with all the baby stuff she needed to go into hospital and we got her little boy a Christmas present.
“When she came to pick it up she stood at the side of the Carnmoney Road and cried, she was so overwhelmed and grateful. These people really appreciate what we are doing for them.”
The foodbank is staffed by volunteers from the churches around the borough, who have been busy sorting the donated food, and wrapping gifts and toys in Christmas paper in preparation for the festive season.
“We have been overwhelmed by the support from the churches and the amount of food they have donated,” said Mina.
The Newtownabbey Foodbank also signposts people to advice services for help with issues such as benefits.
“It’s very satisfying to see people turn their lives around. People have come and spoken in church to tell their stories.
“I would like to say thank you to those who donated food as we were overwhelmed by the generosity of the people of Newtownabbey.
“Working together as a community we are able to show God’s love to those who are going through a difficult time and I feel honoured to be part of it,” Mina concluded.