Tears of the Torbay mum who couldn't feed her children
A MOTHER in tears told charity worker Nigel Williams her two children had eaten no food at all for two days.
Nigel, who runs Paignton-based social action charity Anode, sees the daily battles that hundreds of working families in Torbay have to pay bills and feed their families.
His charity discreetly delivers emergency food parcels in supermarket shopping bags, in a plain van, so that families in need are not too embarrassed to ask for help.
"This last week I was delivering food to one house in Paignton and the mother hugged me at the door.
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"She said 'My children haven't eaten for two days'. She was in despair. She said if I hadn't brought food that day then she would have been driven to go out and steal food for her children.
"We were talking about a mum who works part-time to look after her children. She was a great mum.
"Her children were clean and tidy and she was prepared to put herself at risk, and even get arrested, to feed her children.
"She just didn't have enough money at the end of the month to pay her bills and feed her children.
"I spoke to another family with three children under six in Brixham who had no food whatsoever this week and we are working with other agencies to help tide them over until their wages come in.
"We are seeing it increasingly now."
Anode was set up by former engineer and church minister Nigel five years ago and is so-named because an anode is an electrode which takes in negative currents and passes out positive ones.
Demand from the service has risen from 75 families in need in its first year to 2,225 last year.
The food bank hands out at least 78 days' of food each week.
Now Nigel wants to expand by working with national charity FareShare which redistributes food to the poor.
The only thing stopping Nigel is that he needs some kind of refrigerated van or freezer unit where he can store fresh food.
Now he is appealing to Herald Express readers and local businesses to help: "I need a chilling facility. I could go and get the food tomorrow and bring it down here.
"At the moment, the nearest FareShare is in Bristol. Perhaps a local firm has an old chiller van that's coming to the end of its life that they might donate?
"FareShare works with the big supermarkets. Country-wide 40million tons of food goes to landfill every single year.
"There isn't a shortage of food, there's a problem with the system."
Sarah Ready runs the Torbay Food Bank, which started operating in Brixham six weeks ago.
Once it is established, there are plans to extend the emergency food parcel service into the rest of Torbay.
Sarah, who is from Brixham, was working in Plymouth when she realised there was a need in Brixham.
"It became clear there was a need for food in Brixham but nowhere people could go.
"We have been finding that there are a lot of elderly who chose between paying for gas and electricity or paying for food.
"The problem is we have the fishing industry which is weather dependant and the tourism industry which is weather dependant.
"People can work for short bursts and then have no work.
"It is very sad. A lot of the people we deliver food to are really hard-working families who have been made redundant, or older people with no private pension, or young people whose benefits are not enough because house rents are going up and up.
"Poverty is hidden but I think it is as bad as in places such as Greece.
"The good news is we have had a lot of support. It brings people out of the woodwork and once we start talking to them we can signpost them to other agencies for help and support."
In Torquay, Hele's Angels community support group said it has seen changes in recent months, with more working families in need.
Hele's Angels boss Chris Forster said: "This new report doesn't surprise me at all.
"We are meeting this week to look at potentially starting up an emergency food parcel scheme or a food bank.
"Many of these people are barely on a minimum wage and they are the ones who are finding it extremely difficult to pay the bills.
"In the area where we work 45 per cent of adults over the age of 65 live beneath the poverty line and 35 per cent of children under 16 are also living below the bread line.
"It's now not just families that are out of work who are getting into problems — in the last few months it is more and more families that are in work.
"Sometimes they can be worse off because they do not qualify for various benefits.
"I am aware from talking to some of our workers that there are families going without food.
"They have to choose between buying food for tea or paying the electricity bill.
"We are helping people to prioritise their debts so that they don't end up being chucked out on the streets.
"Hele's Angels has been running for 18 months now and we have noticed in the last couple of months is that we have more working people coming to us for help and advice.
"They are the sort of people who don't want to be on benefits.
"The problem in Torbay is there are no real jobs, no light industry, no progressive companies creating or driving the job market.
"The majority of jobs are part-time or in the holiday trade.
"Even people who work at the large supermarkets, or in schools or health are often working part-time.
"Torbay has more than its fair share of issues.
"The new ring road is still three years off. There are things that are starting up to improve things and our jubilee street party was evidence that the community is pulling together to help each other."