A HOMELESSNESS charity says people in Mid Devon are seeking emergency food rations because they have not eaten in three days.
This stark reminder of the reality of life on the bread-line was delivered to members of Tiverton Town Council by a representative of the charity last Monday.
Ruth Morley, the financial development officer for the Churches Housing Action Team (Chat), based in Gold Street, Tiverton, talked to councillors about its work administering the town's food bank and supporting the homeless or those at risk of losing a roof over their head.
Ruth said many people's "incomes were getting less and less" while food prices were increasing. She said the charity was finding more people who were struggling to afford to feed themselves or their family. "We are seeing people who have not eaten for three days which is astonishing in this part of the world," she added.
The charity runs a food bank scheme providing essential items donated by churches to those most in need.
Ruth said the charity is seeing the greatest demand for this service since it formed in 1995.
She said: "Previously, we might expect to have given out on average something like 20 food parcels a month but in just one day this June – which generally is a quiet month – we gave out 10 parcels."
She said people's generosity had matched the rising demand and Chat's food bank was "swimming in pasta and baked beans" but other items are needed.
She said: "We need food that has a very long sell-by-date. We do need biscuits, which are good because they can be eaten on their own and are a quick source of energy.
"We also have to consider people's circumstances and whether they have things like kettles or tin openers."
She said the charity was also asking for 'Bags for Life' because receiving food aid still carried a stigma for some families and these large bags allowed the recipients to "keep their dignity."
She said the charity also provided a floating tenancy support service and deposit guarantees for those finding it difficult to make up front payments to secure accommodation.
The charity can also provide tents as a last resort where it was unable to help secure accommodation immediately.
"We can give out tents and sleeping bags, but we cannot advise people on where to sleep, although in the past we know people have camped at the canal or in a churchyard," said Ruth
Cllr Tony Hendy said he felt fuel poverty was every bit as big an issue in Mid Devon as food poverty.
He said: "Every winter I visit 15-20 properties in the town where they are having terrible problems because they can't afford to keep the heating on."
He said he had previously suggested the idea of a fuel bank, like the food bank, where those in desperate need could bring utility keys and get a small amount put on which would allow them to heat their home.
He was keen to discuss the idea further with the organisation. Cllr Hendy said fuel poverty was a "real problem" in the town, affecting older people and young families alike, and said he would not want to be in the position himself where he had "to choose whether to heat or eat".