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Where do you go when there's just no money left to buy food?

IT is a typical Saturday in December, with roads packed with traffic as the festive frenzy gets underway.

Caroline Brodie helps a woman in Anniesland
Caroline Brodie helps a woman in Anniesland

Times may be tough for many shoppers this Christmas, but tucked away in a side street in the suburbs of Glasgow is a project helping those whose main worry is where their next meal is coming from.

Patrick Murray, 38, is typical of those who come through the doors of the Storehouse foodbank in Anniesland. The father of five had his sickness benefit stopped in June and has not had any money to survive on since then.

He is appealing the decision, but while the situation is being sorted out, he is forced to rely on the food bank for help.

"I can't keep going to my mum and dad's all the time and I have been borrowing money, but I'm not paying a penny back," he said. "I have no idea when I am going to hear about my appeal."

Patrick, who is divorced, supports his five children aged between seven and 18; the three youngest stay with him one day a week and at the weekends. He leaves with two carrier bags stuffed with basics including potatoes, mince and pasta.

"I started coming here seven weeks ago; if it wasn't here I would be struggling," he says. "At least I will get food here to tide me over until next week."

Storehouse was set up in August 2011 with the aim of helping to alleviate food poverty in north-west Glasgow. People can either drop in or be referred by organisations such as social work, and it has links with more than 70 agencies.

Jamie Watters, senior pastor at Glasgow Westend Vineyard church, which runs the project, said the idea was triggered by a chance encounter in the street with an acquaintance two years ago.

"He was just a normal, hard-working guy with a young family and he had been made redundant," Watters said. "There was a gap between him getting benefit and redundancy money and he really had a choice whether he was going to eat that night or turn his heating on. I thought someone should do something about this and it might as well be us."

Watters said many people have "fallen through the cracks"– an increasing problem as social care systems come under increasing strain with tight budgets.

"We even had a school that brought an older teenager because his father had died," he said. "As he was too young for benefits and with the social work department stretched, we helped him while the system kicked in."

The food bank, open from 10am to 12 noon every Saturday, is run by volunteers.

Two people are queuing outside the door before it opens and a steady stream of others arrive over the next two hours.

They register before sitting with a volunteer project worker, who chats through their circumstances and tries to offer advice. The worker then helps them select items from a table stacked with items including food and toiletries. With mothers of young children sometimes turning up, supplies of nappies, formula milk and baby food are also on hand.

Among those who have come along is Sandra, 53, whose husband died two years ago. She is struggling to support both herself and her 21-year-old son after his sickness benefit was stopped.

"It is terrible, he is not getting any money so I have to keep him as well," she says. "He has been for a medical but it could be six to eight weeks before we hear what is happening. This means I can actually have some food in the house."

By noon, 19 people and their families have been given bags of shopping. On the busiest days it can be as many as 25.

Caroline Brodie, Storehouse co-ordinator, said the number of clients had grown since the food bank first opened its doors.

"When we first started, we had one client. Then we got to an average of about four a week, then we hit winter and it was up into the teens," she said.

"Now, we are at an average of 20 families, but I think that will increase around Christmas. That's what happened last year.

"Nobody should be in poverty to the point they do not have food."

The Storehouse project is not only about providing essentials, but pointing people in the direction of where to seek help to get them out of crisis.

Boundaries are put in place to make sure people do not become reliant on the service – the basic level of support is three times in six months, with extra assistance available depending on the individual's circumstances.

Only a small number of people are supported on a regular basis, with the food bank mainly serving a steady flow of new clients.

"We can't do this on our own and people who are coming to us will most often need a bit more support," Brodie said.

"We will always try and link them in with the right kind of support, as we are not specialists."

But with difficulties in managing money and issues with loan or rent arrears a common reason for seeking help, the project did recently run a course on budgeting and debt management for the first time.

Martin Dunn, 50, from Drumchapel, has been coming to the food bank for around six months and is facing a constant struggle to pay off his debts and survive on what is left.

"I've got a lot of problems with debt and I don't know what is happening," he said. "I have just got to watch what I am doing.

"I have not much left to spend on food at all and you have got to pay rent arrears all the time – otherwise you are out on the street and I don't want that."

Many of those who seek help from Storehouse have mental health issues or have been affected by temporary benefit stoppages, which can be triggered by something as simple as an address change.

Another group which frequently turns to the food bank is destitute asylum seekers. In some cases, people have been granted refugee status but have little means of support while sorting out benefits or trying to find work.

Hilary is a single mother of three in her thirties and an asylum seeker who arrived in Scotland a few years ago from Malawi.

She is still waiting for her asylum application to be processed and has come to the food bank for the second time.

"I do get some money from the government but it is not always enough," she says. "It is quite difficult to survive on it. In the winter you need warm clothes for the children and because they are growing you have to replace them as well.

"I heard about the food bank from one of the organisations that helps asylum seekers. It makes a big, big difference as it takes the pressure off."

Among the team of 10 volunteers staffing the food bank is Shirley Young, 38, from Anniesland – a part-time student and hotel worker who became involved with the project around three months ago. She points out the service provides vital social contact for many of those who visit.

"For some of them, it is the only chance they get to have a good chat," she says. "A lot of them are suffering from isolation and loneliness. Sometimes, Saturday morning can be the only time they have contact with somebody.

"Sitting and having a chat with somebody and them being allowed to offload a bit helps as well. It is not that we are offering any counselling, it is just sitting and listening to them.

"A lot of them look forward to having a chat with you. They know at the end of it they are going to get their shopping, but that is only a part of it."

While Storehouse is currently a "first point of contact" service, the idea of offering befriending and counselling support in the future is being explored.

The project also hopes to open on another day of the week in the future to meet demand and enable social workers to refer people in crisis to the foodbank on the same day, for example.

With the service currently relying on donations of groceries to make sure there is enough to hand out, raising more funds could provide the money to link into networks which organise the collection of foods near the best-before date from supermarkets.

Peter Fowler, compassion pastor at Glasgow West End Vineyard, said: "When we first started, we weren't entirely sure how great the need was.

"When we did open, we really realised there was a huge need that was hidden beneath the surface.

"The aim is not to make people dependent on us, but to help them to break the cycle of poverty which has lots of different causes."

He added: "I think I am always taken aback by some of the situations that people present with – you feel like you have heard it all and then you think how can that be?

"There is a sense of injustice at some of the situations."

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