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Families face Christmas on the breadline
IF you believe the TV adverts, it is a time of year when happy families are sitting down to huge meals at tables groaning with turkeys, vegetables and treats of all shapes and sizes.
Yet that will not be the reality for everyone across Hampshire.
Thousands of families will be having a very different kind of Christmas from those being used to sell food and presents by our biggest stores.
According to one organisation which provides much-needed help for those struggling below the poverty line, the number of people in need is greater this year than in recent memory.
Poitiers Care, which was set up three years ago to deliver food parcels to the neediest people in Southampton, has seen its workload double this year since changes were made to the benefits system.
Families and individuals living in poverty who are unable to buy food are referred to the Catholic organisation by charities, schools, churches and social workers. Depending on their needs, they can be referred for help for up to four weeks.
Every week a team of 30 volunteers get to work parcelling up enough food for each supported household to survive for seven days. Then every Friday a swarm of helpers drive around the city delivering the food to the families’ doors.
They currently deliver to around 60 households a week, helping about 70 adults and 50 children across Southampton and the surrounding area.
Graham Alldred, 62, a semi-retired builder from Romsey, has been volunteering with Poitiers Care for three years.
He said: “The difference between us and the food bank is that we deliver the food so we keep their dignity.
“We collect food and people give us money so we can buy food from supermarkets. We basically make up packs of food.
“Since April we’ve been inundated because of the changes to people’s benefits – it has doubled our workload.
“The system takes so long to pick up that they get desperate and that’s where we come in.
“I’ve made a lot of deliveries and I never get anything but a big thank you.
“That’s the rewarding bit for us. We’re only out to help.
“We want to meet the most needy while preserving their dignity.”
The organisation, based at Holy Family Church, Millbrook, is a continuation of the Poitiers Project, set up by Father Des Connolly, which provided furniture to people in poverty for four years until it had to close in 2010 because of funding issues.
The idea is based on following the example set by Saint John of God, a Portuguese-born healthcare worker who supported the poor of Granada, Spain, in 1540.
Graham said: “There’s so much poverty really. The idea was to provide a service for those who are really desperate.
“We do have cases where social workers have to plead with them to accept food.
“It’s really to get people aware, because everyone’s so busy rushing around they don’t notice that so many people are going hungry on their doorstep.
“You get some who say they never thought they’d be in this situation and it’s going to get worse now because of the gas and electric prices going up.”
The organisation relies on its team of volunteers, along with donations of money and non-perishable food to continue its work.
For more information, or to donate or volunteer, call 023 8077 8203 or email: email@example.com.
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