Food parcels handed out to desperate families in Preston this Christmas will be short on turkey and plum pud.
The chances are the grateful recipients will be tucking into tins of baked beans and rice pudding as the rest of the nation sits down to carve the bird.
“Some of the people we give parcels to wouldn’t know how to cook a turkey even if we could get them one, because that’s not the way they live,” said Capt Alex Cadogan of the Salvation Army.
“It’s all about basic foods really. Although it would be lovely if we could give them a little something extra at Christmas like a box of biscuits or some chocolates.”
The city’s food bank in Harrington Road will help more than 400 needy families and individuals during the build-up to Christmas. Some will be sleeping rough, others living in bedsits, bed and breakfast accommodation or social housing where they face the agonising choice between putting the heating on or food on the table.
The Salvation Army has seen an alarming rise in the numbers referred to the food bank this year, with crippling debt now the main reason for people needing handouts.
“We are dealing with more than double the numbers we did last Christmas,” said Major Maggie Cadogan. “But we have seen the situation really worsen in the last six months.
“Our parcels are only meant to supplement things – to last them two to three days – they are not supposed to replace the family’s big shop. But the people we help are ever so grateful. It makes a big difference for them.”
Foodstuffs in demand include tins of beans, spaghetti, soup and meat, pasta, cereals, UHT milk, bread, pies, chocolate bars, squash, sugar, tea and coffee.
But, with Christmas looming, the food bank staff are asking for a few “luxury” items like biscuits, chocolates and selection boxes to help bring a little festive cheer to families at an otherwise bleak time.
The Salvation Army also wants new toys – not second-hand – to provide needy children with a special taste of the magic millions of other youngsters often take for granted.
“Last Christmas we provided 373 toy parcels for children, which meant they got presents which they otherwise wouldn’t have got,” said Major Cadogan.
“We are extremely grateful to everyone who donates things to the food bank. The fact we can help so many people is down to the incredible generosity of those who give. Without them we couldn’t do what we do.”
All those helped by the Harrington Road food bank are referred from agencies like the Preston Council Welfare Benefit Information Centre or the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
“We can’t accept people just walking in off the street asking for food parcels,” added Major Cadogan. “We have to know the people we are helping are also in touch with other organisations which are helping to sort their situation out.”