FOOD donated by generous Bognor Regis residents has replaced meals scavenged from shop bins for Stephen Richardson.
Stephen, 46, is among the dozens of adults and children who began 2017 well fed thanks to the town’s Foodbank.
The early weeks of this year have been as busy as any experienced by the Foodbank as it approaches its fifth anniversary.
One morning saw a client every 15 minutes arrive at its premises on the corner of Argyle Road and West Street. They included a family with seven chilldren. Another day saw 14 individuals seek food for their plates.
Stephen spoke to the Post on his third visit to the charity to collect carrier bags of the donated tins and packets of essential ingredients for a healthy life.
He said: “I’m grateful to the people who have given the food. If it wasn’t the meals I’ve got here and, if I was on the streets, I would not eat.
“I was living on the streets in Worthing last August for seven-and-a-weeks. For the first two of them, I slept on a bench on the pier before I bought a tent and joined with a few other homeless people.
“I would go through the bins behind the supermarkets to find out what food they had thrown away. I would eat it if it was only out of date by a day or two.”
He also depended on soup runs and other handouts but his weight plummeted from 12.5 stone to 10.5 stone while he was homeless.
Stephen is from Derby and ended up homeless after a dispute with his wife. He ran a gardening business with a friend and then worked as a labourer in the construction industry but became an alcoholic for ten years.
He moved to Worthing because two elderly relatives lived there but was accepted by Bognor Housing Trust last autumn for one of its town centre properties. His time on the streets contributed to a diagnosis of depression from a GP.
The desire to feed those like Stephen means Bognor Regis Foodbank’s two co-ordinators, Sue White and Sandie Bolton, and its 12 volunteers have called on the town’s residents to carry on giving.
A surge in donations at Christmas is followed by a lull this month and next month. Sue said: “People are always very generous around Christmas and we end up with a lot of supplies. There’s always plenty of mince pies and Christmas puddings! But it is important people still remember that we would like to have donations at this time of year as well.
“We have an average of 20-30 clients a week. We give them enough food for three days – based on whether they are individuals or families – and they can come here three times, though we can make exceptions for emergencies.”
The Foodbank’s clients found themselves without food at this time of year for several reasons, said Sue. Christmas could have proved more expensive than they thought because they wanted to buy presents for their children. Their work could have been cut because of the long break or the cost of their midwinter bills climbed more than their planned budgets.
“It is quite easy to not have enough to eat. If you are living hand to mouth, it only takes one unplanned expense to make a person short of money,” she added. “But it is not alway easy for people to admit that they need help. One woman had spent 90 minutes at home summoning up the courage to visit us for the first time.”
The Foodbank is open from 11am-4pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Its collection bins are in the main supermarkets. Thursdays have recently been used for More Than Food courses for a handful of clients to learn about diet and nutrition.