THE number of Christmas hampers distributed to local families in need by Enniskillen Foodbank has risen by almost 50 per cent this festive season.
Sharon West, manager of the local foodbank, said that this year they gave out around 280 hampers, compared to 190 in 2016. She told the Impartial Reporter that there had been a “significant increase” in the number of families in need locally.
Mrs. West attributed this rise to a number of factors, including the changes to the benefits system, delays in receiving new benefits, sickness and people working but not being able to keep up with the increasing cost of living.
She said that it is expected that the usage of the Enniskillen Foodbank will “substantially increase” in February, when the controversial new Universal Credit benefit is due to be rolled out locally. “According to foodbanks in areas where Universal Credit has already been rolled out in England, from May to October foodbank usage had increased by 30 per cent,” she warned.
The manager said that, between May and December this year, the local foodbank had helped 250 families. Mrs. West added: “We provide a week’s worth of food, from cereals, milk, beans, soup, pasta, coffee, tinned meat, tinned fruit, biscuits and juice.
“We provide it for four weeks. Very few of our clients come through the door as a walk-in, we are generally referred them from a support agency.”
Enniskillen Foodbank works closely with the town’s branch of the Salvation Army, which is co-led by husband and wife, Majors Simon and Nina Wright.
Every year, the Salvation Army runs a Christmas Present Appeal which aims to distribute toys to local children who have little or nothing under their tree on December 25.
Speaking to the Impartial Reporter this week, Simon Wright revealed that 30 more children had been referred to them from support agencies in 2017. As well as delivering presents to families in need, the Salvation Army has also piloted the use of toy vouchers this year. Major Wright said that the vouchers gave people the dignity of making choices and also ensured that children were getting toys that they really wanted.
Praising the support the toy appeal received from the local community, he said that, once again, the people of Fermanagh had been “very generous” in their donations.
Having served in the deprived east London borough of Tower Hamlets before coming to Enniskillen four years ago, Major Wright said he and his wife witnessed the impact of welfare reform at first hand.
He admitted that they had “concerns” over what will happen in the town and wider county when Universal Credit is rolled out here.
The Salvation Army officer also said that while deprivation had been “obvious” in Tower Hamlets, he claimed it was “more hidden” over here.
“People will not always acknowledge that they need help,” he said.
Major Wright said that, this year, the Salvation Army had also held a toy sale, where they were able to sell items at a lower cost.
“People welcomed the opportunity of having the dignity of buying the toys at a low price,” the major said.
Meanwhile, Major Wright described the rising number of “working poor” in Fermanagh as a “real issue”.
He explained that these were working families on a fixed low incomes who were now being squeezed and struggling to keep up with the increasing cost of living.
The Salvation Army officer also said it was important to highlight that the issue of hardship existed throughout the year and not just at Christmas.
“We have a saying, ‘Need has no season’. Christmas highlights need and loneliness, but once it’s over these issues don’t go away,” he said.
To help address this issue, Major Wright called for a “holistic” approach  from the many organisations in Fermanagh already helping people experiencing hardship, including Action For Children, Women’s Aid, the Foodbank, Credit Union, Christians Against Property and charities offering debt advice and debt counselling.