Chief reporter Brian Ellis joins volunteers at the Salvation Army HQ to lend a hand packing some of the hundreds of food parcels which will go out to desperate families and individuals this festive season.
There wasn’t a turkey in sight and the closest we could get to all the trimmings was a tin of sprouts.
But for those who might otherwise go hungry on Christmas Day, the bags of basic foodstuffs are still a godsend.
“They are a lifesaver to some – quite literally,” said Capt Alex Cadogan as he surveyed a room stacked almost to the ceiling with the generosity of a city. “The people we hand all this out to are incredibly grateful.”
Preston’s food bank will help feed around 600 people this Christmas. The demand is up significantly on what it was last year.
But the bulk of food donations to keep it stocked come, not from supermarkets, but from the public.
Around 4,000 items alone were donated by the audience at last weekend’s One Voice Community Choir concert at the Harrington Street centre. At the other end of the spectrum was the old lady who turned up at the door of the Salvation Army with two tins of soup.
“I can’t find the right words,” confessed Capt Cadogan. “It’s amazing, it’s humbling, I’m just incredibly proud.”
On the packing shift I joined this week, the typical parcel included tea, coffee, pasta and tins of baked beans, spaghetti, vegetables, soup, rice pudding and fruit. On top we added a plum pudding, a few sweets, a packet of biscuits and, for some, even a selection box for the children.
On the wall was a stark reminder of what this is all about – an enormous list of struggling families who are relying on these handouts to put food on the table this Christmas.
All have been referred for food aid by welfare agencies or the Citizens Advice Bureau. And some, with up to six children, will get three, even four bags to help them over this, the most difficult month of the year.
“We’ve run out of sugar, again,” said Claire Hobson, one of the stalwart helpers of the food appeal, as she wheeled in yet more boxes of tins and packets to replenish the production line.
“For some reason we never have enough bags of sugar.”
Food parcel packing took over half of a huge room at the Salvation Army HQ. On the other half were mountains of toys and children’s gifts, separated into age groups and ready for Santa to work his magic with.
They ranged from 0-3 years, right up to teens. All were brand new and many bought specifically for the appeal by thoughtful donors.
Even David Beckham got in on the act – gift sets of his deodorant and body wash in amongst the mound on the teenager table. Ted Baker was in there too, along with a few cans of the ubiquitous Lynx spray.
“We can’t thank the public enough for making space in their budgets to consider others,” said Capt Cadogan.
“People have gone out of their way to buy these toys and gifts and bring them to us.
“That’s how generous folk are in this part of the country.
“People say our society is broken.
“But when you see all this that is clearly rubbish.
“I think society is pretty well fixed, especially at times like Christmas.”