Blaenau Gwent food banks fight extreme poverty

Multiple charities have accepted the challenge to create a network of food aid throughout Blaenau Gwent. The borough has become a land long forgotten by industry. The families that remain have found themselves battling extreme poverty, unable to feed their families with what little income they have to live off of.

Thousands of local residents have been blessed by the generous donations of remaining businesses and more fortunate neighbours who regularly give a little towards the effort. Those donated items are redistributed to area families who might otherwise experience malnutrition without the assistance.

This first Welsh partner of the national Trussell Trust organisation was established in 2008. Since then, Blaenau Gwent Foodbank has delivered thousands of parcels of food aid to needy households.

Using seasonal donation drives to collect dried and tinned food, stockpiles of items can then be used to fulfill the need over the coming months. Harvest is an annual event that provides a large chunk of the total donations. A huge number of schools and churches participate in the effort to raise awareness for the cause and maximise reserves.

For some people living in isolated towns like Waundeg, volunteers deliver aid parcels to help those who are unable to make the trip to a distribution centre. When BBC followed these families for a report in 2013, they found that most of the food was gone within an hour. Desperate adults were even eating baby food to gain the necessary nourishment.

Blaenau Gwent Foodbank is not accepting defeat. The organisation has been steadily growing, increasing the amount of donations and the number of people they feed every year. They have added new distribution centres to get closer to those who need it the most. These are the current locations:

  • Church on the Rise hosts a food bank at 54 Beaufort Rise in Ebbw Vale.
  • Ebenezer Baptist Church in Abertillery feeds local families from its facility on Park Place.
  • Foodbank Ebbw Vale distributes food from Festival Church. This large building on Beech Grove provides room for item storage and client pick ups. The church plans to supplement the service with the ReStore charity shop and cafe, which will enable additional support to be provided to disadvantaged youth and financially distressed adults. This location accepts telephone enquiries at 0845 600 77 80.
  • Saron Congregational Church is the site of one distribution centre in Tredegar. This Park View facility is near the old hospital.
  • In Nantyglo the Waunheulog Community Centre hands out food parcels a couple of days each week.

These centres combine to form the oldest Trussell Trust partner in Wales. In fact, Blaenau Gwent Foodbank was launched with the help of current trustee Adrian Curtis. This local resident has since become the Network Director for the Trussell Trust.

Blaenau Gwent Foodbank  is not the only affiliate in the borough.

Rhymney Valley Foodbank in New Tredegar also provides a needed service to local households in need. This organisation was established by the congregation of St Dingat’s Church. This newer affiliate has shared the challenge to fight hunger and poverty in the valley.

Those with enquiries may call Rhymney Valley Foodbank on 07432 322906.

All of these facilities require that a voucher is presented before a resident may take away an aid parcel. Vouchers are widely distributed by money advisers, Social Services, welfare officers and doctors. Even the police routinely provide vouchers to those who are in a troubled situation. The voucher requirement is enforced not to create an obstacle to aid. Instead, the purpose is to ensure that all aid recipients are also getting the proper care needed to address their other concerns. These could include help with job training, benefit payments, housing assistance and healthcare.

While gaining confidence and support through these comprehensive supportive services, the voucher system allows for clients to also gain the necessary nutrition to maintain health and work towards self-sufficiency. The aid has helped families who previously had to choose between paying a bill or feeding their family. It is a difficult choice that no person should have to make. Thanks to the generosity of neighbours, businesses, churches, schools and supermarkets, it is a decision that fewer residents must make.