‘I don’t know what I’d do’ - Desperate families say food banks are a lifeline in the school holidays

Paul Maslin is a trustee of Leeds North and West food bank, which collects money in Leeds train station on the last Friday of the month
Paul Maslin is a trustee of Leeds North and West food bank, which collects money in Leeds train station on the last Friday of the month

Food banks are ensuring desperate families in Yorkshire are able to feed their children over the summer holidays.

The Trussell Trust, which operates food banks across the UK, said it is expecting the busiest summer ever.

Last summer, it gave 87,496 parcels of food to children alone, a 20 per cent increase on 2017. The charity is expecting a similar rise this summer, meaning more than 100,000 parcels of food are likely to be given out, with many families using food banks for the first time.

Read more: Warning as 'record number' of emergency food bank parcels handed out in last year

One of those people is 36-year-old Justyna Wach, who told the Yorkshire Post how she left her abusive ex-husband a year ago with no possessions and has slowly rebuilt her life with her four children.

She said: “When I ran away, I went to the council and I asked if I could have a house because was living in my brother’s house, in one bedroom with my three kids. They said it was a very long list and I must wait.”

Ms Wach, who now lives in Allerton, Bradford, worked 50 hours a week as a cleaner in order to afford a £300 a month privately rented flat and buy furniture. After having her baby son two months ago, was forced to apply for Universal Credit.

She has been approved but faces a difficult five-week wait for the money, something the Trussell Trust is campaigning to end, after seeing its service rise by 73 per cent in five years.

Ms Wach’s children's school referred her to the food bank, as their father is now in prison and unable to help financially.

“I was working before I had this very bad situation and my ex-husband was working as well and that was alright. But now I’m alone and that is hard sometimes, with the kids. Some months it is very hard.

“The food bank is a really good idea and they help a lot of people. [The staff] have got very big hearts.”

She described her first visit as “a good experience”, adding: “It would be very hard without the food bank.”

Read more: Thousands of York children swept into food poverty, campaigners warn

It’s a similar story for another young mother.

Though she works two jobs, she struggles to get enough hours on a zero-hours contract, especially while looking after her three children.

“£63 a fortnight I get from work. £63 a fortnight. How is that going to pay my bills? I’m behind on everything,” she told the Yorkshire Post.

After applying for Universal Credit in December, she is still unsure about exactly how much she is entitled to, as each month there are different calculations and deductions. This month, after paying rent, she was left with just £2.01.

“I’m in a council flat at the moment and I’m finding it difficult. It’s only one bedroom and I’ve got three kids.”

Even this is a step up from the woman’s situation in March, when she was what is often called “hidden homeless”, sofa-surfing and staying at people’s houses for a couple of years after her marriage broke down.

“It’s difficult because I lost everything, lost all my furniture, absolutely everything, I’m having to start all over again. I’ve never been in this situation before, we were married 20 years.”

Walking home from the food bank, with her three girls carrying bags full of food items like tins, dry pasta and juice, the mother explained how grateful she was.

“The food bank has been really helpful. Really, really, really helpful. Best thing I’ve ever had really.”

She added: “I don’t know what I’d do otherwise.”

Paul Maslin, a trustee of Leeds North and West food bank, which gives out 11,710 parcels of food a year, said: “Summer can be especially busy because schools are out.”

Read more: Children 'stealing food' and too tired to focus in class, Yorkshire's headteachers warn

Not having free school meals makes a huge difference but even small things like a bus trip into town can add up.

“It still costs money, [which is hard] if you don't have enough money, if you're in crisis.”

Leeds North and West food bank is part of the Trussell Trust, which is designed to be for emergencies, though the charity finds there are some people who simply do not have enough regular money coming in to pay their bills and feed their children, with no sign of things improving.

“Nobody wants to be in a food bank. Nobody goes 'Yippee, I can't feed my family'.”

He said the charity does its best to ensure its users get more support, especially those who are finding themselves in crisis and using a food bank for the first time in their lives.

“[We] give them a cup of tea and a cake, and while their food is being packed, we signpost them to help.”

Last week, the Trussell Trust launched a petition to Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister, urging him to cut waiting times for Universal Credit recipients.

The charity is also encouraging people to support its summer appeal to help stop hunger.