Thongsbridge Food Bank has been going for 15 years but its services have never been more in demand.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit family finances hard and volunteers who run the food bank out of the Full Life Church are working hard to keep pace.

When Claire Leader joined founder Ian Gooch as a volunteer at the start of the pandemic last year, the food bank was helping 20 families a week.

At the peak of the pandemic that number rose to 200. The number of families in need fell back towards the end of last year but since Christmas they have been on the rise again.

The 25 or so volunteers now deliver five days a week to around 150 families and it’s not just in Thongsbridge or the Holme Valley.

The drivers go to families across many parts of Huddersfield including Marsden, Golcar, Newsome, Fartown, Paddock, Birkby and Almondbury.

Claire said: “There are still people out there who didn’t realise Thongsbridge had a food bank but we’ve been here for 15 years.

“We were supporting 200 families at the peak last year and while that number has fallen back it’s been rising steadily by three or four referrals a week since Christmas.

“People come and go, of course, and we support families until they get back on their feet.

“But what we are finding is that people haven’t necessarily lost their jobs but if they are furloughed and lose 20% of their wages that can be the tipping point for many families.”

Volunteer Claire Leader: Picture by: Sean Doyle

Claire, 44, who previously worked as a receptionist and secretary at the John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield, was made redundant at the back end of last year.

“I was OK myself because I received a redundancy payment and found a new job relatively quickly but I don’t know how long I could have managed if I hadn’t been able to get another job,” she said.

“No-one knows how close they are to needing a food bank themselves.”

Claire said while it was sad that food banks were needed at all, there shouldn’t be any stigma about asking for help.

“Don’t be too proud,” said Claire. “That is what the food bank is here for.”

Thongsbridge Food Bank primarily takes referrals from various agencies but people can ring directly for help. Recipients don’t necessarily have to be on specific benefits but questions will be asked about individual circumstances.

Food is donated to the food bank by the Co-op petrol station in Honley and also Aldi, Lidl and Tesco. Taylors Food Store in Honley, is also a big supporter.

Volunteer Claire Leader. Picture by: Sean Doyle

Claire found working for the food bank opened her eyes to how some families are forced to live in 2021.

She befriended one man and put frozen food into his food parcel only to find out later that he didn’t have a freezer, something most people take for granted.

There were some families who only had a microwave and a deep fat fryer and one young woman living in a hotel room only had a kettle and no cooking facilities.

“We also deliver to families as big as eight but while we take as much as we can there’s no way we can feed a family of eight for a week,” said Claire. “We just hope we are helping to make that little bit of difference which takes away some of the pressure.”

Claire, a member of Holmfirth Harriers Athletics Club, is entered for two marathons just a week apart later this year and aims to raise money for the food bank – if the events go ahead.

“I entered the Manchester Marathon last year and that was postponed to October this year and I also applied for the London Marathon, not really expecting to get in but I did.

“The London Marathon has been put back to October too meaning the two marathons are now just a week apart, which is not very good planning. I’m not really relishing two marathons in a week!”

Volunteer Claire Leader: Picture by: Sean Doyle

Claire said if she had one wish it would be for families who could afford to donate just £5 a month to the food bank.

As well as food, the food bank needs cash donations to help pay for rent and running costs, not least for the four large freezers.

The food bank can be contacted HERE or search Facebook.