Struggling In Plain Sight As Poverty Grips Fermanagh

Amid the silence is the rattling of food wrappers and the rustling of bags as the door of the foodbank on Cross Street opens and closes again and again. Those who come to Enniskillen Foodbank come from all walks of life.

Marie* (21) lives in Enniskillen and is from the travelling community. She says she visits the service twice a month and has relied on it throughout difficult times including the loss of both of her parents in recent months.

Waiting on her food parcel to be packed up by volunteers, she said: “I lost my parents five months ago and I lost my brother over three years ago. I am trying to get a job and stuff sorted but because of my culture, no one will accept me in a job because I am from the travelling community.

John Shades, Manager, Enniskillen Foodbank – Fermanagh teenagers and pensioners among those using foodbanks (Pic. John Mc Vitty)

“It’s hard to get into work, it feels like everyone is against me.”

She explained that the foodbank parcel she receives lasts about a week and a half and she supplements the parcels with grocery shopping using her benefit payments, to buy perishable goods.

“It is not much but I make it count,” she said.

Marie values the kindness and helpfulness of the volunteers at the foodbank, she said: “They are very, very helpful, when I had no way after losing my dad and having a tough time, they really helped me out.”

Other stories told include grandparents lifting parcels for helping to feed their grandchildren as well as newcomer families to the area from different countries.

Families are among those coming to the foodbank with one mum of two saying that the current cost of living situation means that she is choosing between food or fuel.

Sarah* (48) is a mum of two teenagers, one of whom has special needs and lives near Pettigo – again like many of the other service users she is grateful for the foodbank service and gives a small gift to one of the volunteers to thank her.

She has been coming to the foodbank for about a year on a monthly basis. She said: “I come when I’m really, really in need of it. I am in to try and get food on the table.

“It is hard this time of year”, she added, pointing to the demands on parents supplying children going back to school.

“It is providing snacks and stuff now they are back to school after buying uniforms, shoes, I still have to get his PE kit.

“Whenever they go back to school you have to pay for swimming lessons, PE kit and then they want trainers, and you can’t – even the charity shops have got expensive. It used be six or seven pounds for trainers, now it’s like £18.”

Sarah emphasised how important the foodbank is to families like hers, adding: “Otherwise you wouldn’t have food in the cupboard to send your children to school, otherwise you’d be embarrassed if they didn’t have a snack.”

Discussing the price of food, oil, electricity and other essentials, she said: “It’s a really, really difficult time at the minute and everything has went up and up.

“If you don’t have diesel in the car, you can’t bring them to school – it’s either food or diesel and you can’t do both. Sometimes it’s making a choice, I have diesel maybe for two days but what am I going to do for the rest of the week? And you’re trying to make excuses to the teacher, you can’t afford to bring them to school and back every day.”

Leaving the foodbank in Enniskillen (Image John McVitty)

She concluded by saying: “The foodbank is brilliant and only for it, you wouldn’t survive.”

At other times throughout the mid-morning slot, members of the public come in and donate money to the foodbank charity box, donating in notes.

Others come in with supplies for children – the foodbank also runs a grow baby scheme for children aged 0-5 where they can supply clothes, prams, cots and other essentials to service users, many of whom are referred to them through social services or through other organisations.

One man who collected on behalf of others was Trevor Wills from Enniskillen, a member of Enniskillen Reformed Presbyterian Church – he was collecting for a young mother whose partner is in prison.

He said: “I really want to help people, this is my third time here for different families.”

He cites his faith as one of the reasons he helps others.

Those attending receive a wide variety of non-perishable items, some of which come from donations from local supermarkets. Yesterday, a large supply of toilet roll was donated to the foodbank and was being given out with all the parcels.

The foodbank is staffed by volunteers who tell the stories of some of the people they have met in their time volunteering – one received a hug from a service user after receiving a parcel.

One of them, Michael McHugh, shared his important life motto which translates well into the work of the volunteers at the foodbank: “Never judge a book by its cover.”

*Names have been changed.

(Source – Impartial Reporter – Local News – Special Report – Victoria Johnston – 19/09/2023)

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Rural Enterprise Skillnet
Rural Enterprise Skillnet

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