A shocking snapshot of Britain: The small town where more than 50 families rely on free food handouts so they

don't starve
By Daily Mail Reporter Last updated at 3:30 PM on 14th March 2011

As hundreds more lose their jobs, food bank is running short

In the heart of rural Devon, with the dramatic heights of Dartmoor rising behind it, the town of Okehampton would appear to offer an idyllic lifestyle. The reality could not be more different. Here, surrounded by rolling countryside and picturesque thatched villages, lies a snapshot of the havoc and hardship the economic downturn is wreaking on Britain. Shockingly, more than 50 families in this town are relying on food handouts to keep from starving. Recent multiple business closures mean that the situation is going from bad to worse. Hundreds who lost their jobs are now living under the poverty line and are struggling to feed and clothe their families. Local vicar the Reverend Barry Walton, delivering food parcels to the needy, said: 'People are going hungry - that is not an exaggeration.' The town's food bank, started by the council a few years ago to send aid to families in Romania and Bulgaria, is now a lifeline for more than 200 people in Okehampton itself. Organisers say they're running low on supplies - which are donated by individuals, clubs, and even schools - as more families affected by the recent redundancies are forced to rely on the scheme. More than 300 workers have been laid off in the past month by three Okehampton companies - the Robert Wiseman milk factory, Browns chocolate factory and Polestar desserts have all either closed down or been relocated. The jobless figure in the town - population 7,000 - has jumped from 1.9 per cent to more than 11 per cent. Okehampton mayor Michael Morse said that the community was still reeling: 'It is a shock. We've never had anything like this happen before.'

Former mayor and town councilor Kay Bickley, who helped start the food bank three years ago, said: 'In the past four weeks we've have had in excess of 4,000 kilos of food donated and roughly the same going out.'

which was originally set up as past of the Trussle Trust: 'The Baptist church is the actual distribution point.' Councillor Mike Davies. so this has been a wonderful boon for us. we put it in bags like you'd find in a shop.' . which went into administration six weeks ago. One of the factories. 'It can take a while to sort out benefits you are entitled to. didn't pay its employees for the last two weeks so some families have been two months with no income. They described the food bank as a 'Godsend' without which they could not have managed. 'It takes a lot of courage to admit you are struggling financially and we don't want people to feel stigmatised.Mrs Wonnacott said: 'We've had four weeks where we've had to manage with no income at all. How are they going to pay the rent or the mortgage? How are they going to live. Andrew Morgan. some staff made redundant hadn't been paid for weeks .no one would be stigmatised by going in and out although we don't give out the food in boxes. said: 'For many people in this town at the moment there is simply no money coming in.'Another volunteer. People go in there anyway . There is a mood of genuine fear in the town at the moment.' Mrs Bickley said: 'We were expecting something unpleasant to happen . so in the meantime they are forced to live on handouts. A lot of the time when people come in they see their old friends from the factory floor and it can actually have quite a real community feel.what we weren't expecting was to find over 11 per cent of the working population made redundant.She said: 'The people of Okehampton have pride and want to work but circumstances have led a lot of families into a devastating situation. said: 'We are still appealing for food. It is desperately needed.' Mary and Nick Wonnacott both worked for Polestar for more than 15 years before losing their jobs last month. who helps run the food bank. 'One of the most upsetting things I have seen is when two parents were both employed by the factories.' She said of the food bank.there really are people with no money and they really can't put food on the table.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful