Thanet food bank charities on the frontline as isle’s vulnerable struggle to make ends meet

Food banks have been under strain

Report by Jodie Nesling

The number of people using a Thanet food bank has nearly doubled in five years.

From cash-strapped families to pensioners plunged into poverty the isle’s most vulnerable are increasingly struggling to make ends meet.

Thanet Food Link fed 2,148 people last year and say the figure has finally plateaued but only due to limitations on their resources.

A 13% spike in usage was recorded following the roll-out of universal credit in July 2017 with the charity helping to feed 2,229 people that year.

The charity was formed in 2013 and distributes food parcels from St Paul’s church on Northdown Road three times a week.

Charity founders

Debbie Ellisdon, who set up the charity with husband Patrick, said: “This year has seen the first year that we have not increased the number of parcels distributed; we have provided slightly more child parcels and slightly less adult parcels. This levelling off has occurred simply because we have reached our capacity!

“For numbers to increase now we would need a much bigger storage area in church and a van to deliver food from the warehouse -this is not something we are planning to do”

Vouchers are distributed by various agencies and are administered by Elaine Phillips at Cliftonville Community Centre with up to 30 volunteers helping at the church and Westwood warehouse.

Seeking help

Margate mum Sarah Harrington says the service offers a lifeline as she often struggles to make ends meet relying on the food bank for essential items such as nappies for one-year-old, Sophia.

“My daughter is my priority. I suffer from depression due to lots of reasons and it’s difficulty surviving on benefits. My partner works one day a week in Deal.”

The 31-year-old added: “I used to live in Chatham and was in an abusive relationship for 10 years before I moved to Margate. I come to church everyday to see my friends here and my daughter was christened at St Paul’s.”


Sarah, Sophia and volunteer Terry

Volunteer Terry has been at the helm for five years and says the number of people using the service has risen over the years. “We usually have a rush of people in the morning to collect their food parcel. We get people with learning difficulties, they come here and we look after them. Each case is looked at on an individual basis; people come if they are struggling with debts and sometimes we see families attend when school meals are not available.”

Increase in elderly people needing help

In Ramsgate the Salvation Army say they are also seeing an increasing number of elderly people needing food parcels. Lieutenant Carl Whitewood, community leader, says some are too embarrassed to seek help.

He said: “We are giving around 25-30 food packages a week and have seen an increase in larger families  because their benefits have been cut or sanctioned. We are getting more elderly- we know people who are supporting them and receiving parcels on their behalf as they are too embarrassed to come themselves.

 “Our figures have been increasing, although we have become more strategic by establishing  three timed slots a week. That may mean it is better advertised so agencies are funneling more people through or it maybe that more are being put onto Universal Credit and the latter tends to be the feedback we get.”

The time of year sees a drop in donations although the Christmas and Harvest Festival periods generated plenty of support from the community.

Debbie said:  “We would like to take this opportunity to thank St. Paul’s Church for its generosity towards Thanet Food Link the greatest need at this time is food which can be bought to church on a Sunday or put into our collection point at Tesco on Northdown Road.”

Helping out

Thanet Food Link and The Salvation Army require the following food items:
•Tinned meat
•Tinned vegetables
•Tinned pulses (beans,
•Pasta sauce
•Longlife (UHT) milk
•Deodorant and toiletries
•Shaving foam and razors
•Sanitary products
Thanet Food Link accepts donations at St Paul’s on a Sunday or the collection point at Tesco Metro on Northdown
Road. Vouchers can be exchanged for a food parcel from Monday to Wednesday, 10.30am-noon
The Salvation Army accepts donations at Waitrose in Ramsgate, Sainsbury’s in Westwood and at 167
Ramsgate High Street.
Vouchers can be exchanged for a food parcel on Monday and Tuesday, 1pm-3pm, and on Friday, 9am-11am.

A community lifeline

Roarke and Ann Newstead outside The Kitchen CT9

A community cafe which uses food destined for landfill in order to provide affordable meals is operating in Cliftonville.

The Kitchen CT9 is the initiative of charity the  Thanet Iceberg Project which aims to tackle the imbalance of food poverty and food waste in the area.

In addition to the cafe, which will start to sell hot food in the near future, there are a range of environmental, community and social services.

A large fridge is filled with fresh foods that are otherwise disposed of at the end of the day and everybody is encouraged to use it.

Founder Roarke said: “I don’t care if you are a millionaire, that food is going to be thrown away if it is not used and that is a crime!”

The social enterprise uses donated food from the scheme FairShare and has received 1,000kg of goods that would have been otherwise been destroyed.

Ann Newstead, co-founder and chef, said: “If a jar breaks on a pallet rather than clear the glass and salvage the rest of the produce they dispose of it. FairShare offer to clear and distribute the food and we are a recipient.”

Prices at the Cliff Terrace cafe are low but those that can afford it are encouraged to spend more to supplement a free meal for people on lower incomes.

“It creates an inclusive environment where we can all eat together,” explained Roarke.

Other notable services are a water re-fill point and a comprehensive recycling service for pet food pouches, crisp packets and other items deemed ‘non-recyclable.’

They also collect sanitary products as part of the Red Box Scheme.

A wet room is available for homeless people or those with inadequate facilities to bathe.

Roarke added: “We want to create a community space for everyone. We will refill your coffee all day for free if you wish to sit there all day to have a chat. The response has been amazing and we are so overwhelmed by the support we have received from all the local businesses.”

The Kitchen CT9 is currently open Monday-Saturday 9am – 4pm.