Staff from the Abbey Road Centre mental health service have begun delivering a targeted weekly outreach service at the Arfon Community Foodbank in a bid to support an ever increasing number of people in crisis who are being referred for emergency food supplies.
The Bangor-based service, which is funded by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and Gwynedd Council, provides advice and support to people who are struggling to cope with the mental health pressures associated with debt, benefit changes, homelessness or drug and alcohol dependency.
Its aim is to provide support to people with low level mental health problems in order to prevent the need for referral to NHS services.
As well as attending the Arfon Community Foodbank, regular outreach sessions are being held for the homeless community in Arfon and Anglesey in order to reach vulnerable people who may be reluctant to access mainstream services.
Abbey Road Outreach Worker Elaine Ginnelly says the problems faced by many of the people attending foodbanks are being exacerbated by the ‘huge pressure’ and difficult decisions they are being forced to take in the run up to Christmas.
She said: “We’ve recently started taking our services out in to the community, rather than waiting for people to come to us, and as a result we’re now reaching far more people. Many of the people we are supporting don’t have a diagnosed mental health condition, but they are really struggling with a number of problems including debt or benefit changes, and these can be made worse by the huge pressures around Christmas.
“By being on hand in the foodbank we can offer advice, support and signposting to other services in the community that can help them. Just giving people space and time to talk and unburden themselves can make all the difference.”
Trussell Trust Foodbanks provide a minimum of three days’ food donated by the local community to those in need in times of crisis. Last year the Arfon Community Foodbank provided emergency food supplies for 2,302 people in the North Gwynedd area, including 920 children.
It is run by a small committed band of volunteers led by Arwel Jones and his wife Lowri, a retired nurse. He has welcomed the introduction of dedicated mental health support at the foodbank, which is part of a wider effort to ensure that people collecting food parcels can access advice on a range of issues.
“The people who attend the foodbank can often have complex needs” he explained.
“We can often sense when there is more going on than just difficulty feeding themselves, so to have somebody from Abbey Road at the foodbank means that they can gain access to the additional support they need.”
Since opening in 2012, the Arfon Community Foodbank has seen demand for emergency food supplies rise year-on-year, with a 10% increase in the last year alone.
While Christmas is always a busy time of year for the foodbank, the imminent rollout of Universal Credit in Gwynedd during December is expected to lead to an additional surge in demand.
“Trussell Trust Foodbanks in Universal Credit rollout areas across the UK have seen an average increase of 30% in demand so we are braced for more referrals” said Arwel.
“The Arfon Foodbank is always looking for more support through volunteering and donating produce and much needed money. This time of year is a time of great need but also a time of great generosity as people become more aware of the real needs in their own communities.
“We would like to thank the general public for the incredible generosity they have shown over the past few weeks. Anybody wishing to donate food, money or volunteer their time to support the foodbank can find out more about how to do so on our website.”