Gala churches launch food bank

Six Galashiels churches have started a food bank to donate emergency food to cash-strapped families in crisis, covering the areas of Galashiels, Gattonside, Melrose and Tweedbank, writes Sandy Neil.

John McLaren of Galashiels Community Council described the scale of the need in Tweedbank, where he lives.

He said: “My children go to a local school and I’m well aware of the poverty some of the kids are in. The most food parcels we’ve done in one week is 15.

“Langlee and Gala as a whole has a high level of benefit, so inevitably the government’s cuts [in April] are going to have a major impact. Those who are poor are going to get poorer. Either they’ll end up homeless because of the bedroom tax, or they’ll have less money to spend on food.”

The initiative was inspired by Hawick’s Salvation Army, which was “swamped” by the need for emergency food parcels, the Rector of St Peter’s Church in Galashiels told us. He reported how one remarkable member of Gala Baptist Church, Moira Shanks, volunteered to help start a food bank, and then ran it for a year on her own: buying, assembling and delivering the parcels from her garage.

“I think the minister announced in church they were looking for someone to help, and she just put her hand up,” Reverend McCosh said. “I’m not sure she knew what she was letting herself in for.”

When Moira, too, became swamped with orders from locals in need, Galashiels’ food bank was shared out among the town’s other churches. “I think she was relieved other people were interested in doing it,” Rev. McCosh said.

Five more churches then joined the Baptist Church – St Peter’s, Old Parish & St Paul’s, Trinity Parish Church, St John’s, and the Church of Our Lady & St Andrew’s.

“Our worry will be the increase in local referrals when the government reduces housing benefits [after April 1, 2013],” Rev. McCosh added. “It’s not going to be a short-term thing sadly, but a long-term problem.”

Currently Galashiels food bank doesn’t take self-referrals, but operates purely on referrals from agencies. Anyone needing food should contact agencies such as Social Work, Citizens Advice, BCAT (Borders Alcohol and Drugs Partnership), Action To Work, and NHS Borders. There are plans to widen the net to other agencies that are able to assess those in need, such as doctors’ surgeries and schools, Mr McLaren told us.

Each parcel provides food for one person for four to five days, and costs under £20, with £13-£15 on dry/tinned goods, and £3-£4 on fresh ingredients. The initiative relies on donations, so if you wish to donate food or money, contact or visit any one of the six churches.