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Foodbank’s future at risk

Supplies at a foodbank in Valletta are often on the brink of running dry. Rev. Kim Hurst tells Sarah Carabott demand keeps rising every month.

Rev. Kim Hurst at the foodbank. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Rev. Kim Hurst at the foodbank. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

It would be a pleasure to close the foodbank because there was no more need for it but it would be a pity stopping it because the promoters could not cope, Rev. Kim Hurst said.

The foodbank, run by the St Andrews’ Scots Church from Old Bakery Street, Valletta, provides food for a few weeks for families temporarily facing a crisis. These include unemployed or disabled people who have their benefits halted when admitted to hospital. Once discharged, it takes about six weeks for the benefits to start again and this is where the foodbank steps in.

The majority of clients are Maltese and are often referred to the foodbank by Aġenzija Appoġġ. Others are sent by social workers, priests, NGOS and the Emigrants’ Commission.

Occasionally, the bank gets drop-ins and, although fed on the day, they are put in touch with professionals or agencies.

“We want to help those who are prepared to be helped and those who want to help themselves and we provide food for a few weeks. We do not want to do the job other agencies are already doing really well. We just want to fill the temporary crisis gap,” Rev. Hurst said, noting this included people who had just come out of care or those on long-term sick leave.

The foodbank service kicked off in summer in collaboration with the Alliance Foundation but both went their separate ways in September to reach more clients.

The foodbank run by the St Andrew’s Scots Church opens three times a week with the help of 15 volunteers and spends €500 on food products every week.

The number of people helping out at the beginning of October – about 22 a week – doubled in December as knowledge of the service spread. January was the busiest, with the bank providing food for twice as many people as in December.

Rev. Hurst said that one of the busiest times was the beginning of January because many people working within the tourist industry over the Christmas period were laid off.

“We are often scared that supplies are running dry. When we started out we didn’t realise there would be such a demand.” Most weeks she harbours doubts how the foodbank could remain open for more than two or three more weeks and she just “hopes and prays”.

So far, the bank has never sent anyone away hungry because a benefactor would always appear offering some financial support.

The bank is mainly funded by the church’s congregation but, from time to time, agencies or companies also lend a helping hand. Sadly, the foodbank is still met with scepticism from some: “If people really believe there is no poverty in Malta, then they are not looking at the people they come across in the street.

“Before coming to Malta I worked for a foodbank in the UK, so we were already talking about opening one here. One incident that pushed the idea forward was when a gentleman came to church one Sunday morning and remarked that he had just seen someone going through litterbins looking for food remains. It’s very sad that people live that way,” Rev. Hurst said.

The foodbank also catered for those with special dietary requirements such as diabetes and roofless people. While homeless people might have access to a kitchen if they slept at a friend’s place, others were less fortunate and required food that did not need to be heated up, she added.

More information on: thefoodbank.webs.com, on the Facebook page called The Foodbank at Saint Andrew’s, or thefoodbank@saintandrewsmalta.com. Rev. Hurst can also be contacted on 2141 5465 or at kim.hurst@methodist.org.uk.

Is poverty a common reality?

Poverty can be experienced by anyone, irrespective of gender, age or social background.

The Foundation for Social Welfare Services, which includes Aġenzija Appoġġ, distributes food packages, under the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived programme, to over 4,000 families who are periodically in need of nutrition support.

The first packages were distributed in January and three distributions are being planned every year.

What can you do?

• Donate money towards the foodbank.

• Buy extra items and drop them in the collection baskets at the church.

• Volunteer your time.

• If you own a supermarket, put a collection basket where shoppers can drop off a couple of food items.

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