Vital foodbank service for cash-strapped in Dacorum needs help for life, not just for Christmas...

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for the DENS Dacorum Foodbank, which has seen a huge influx of donations as festive cheer spreads around the borough – but its dedicated team of staff and volunteers are keen to show me that this vital food parcel service for families and individuals requires support all year round.

I’m presented with a warm DENS fleece as I enter the charity’s base in Paradise, a short walk away from Hemel Hempstead town centre, where the charity’s shop and furniture warehouse are also located. Immediately it is clear that foodbank manager Sharon Boyall and her band of volunteers care immensely about the important work they’re doing for needy families – particularly as they repeat the tiresome process of separating, weighing, dating and packing the sea of non-perishable, edible items donated by the public.

Gazette reporter Victoria Bull gets a taste of what the DENS Dacorum Foodbank offers as she volunteers at its busiest time of year.

Gazette reporter Victoria Bull gets a taste of what the DENS Dacorum Foodbank offers as she volunteers at its busiest time of year.

Each prepared parcel contains enough food for three meals a day for three days, including cereal, long-life milk, tinned meat, pasta and, at this time of year, some extra festive treats.

The charity works with a number of local agencies who refer those genuinely in need to the foodbank, to ensure people are also getting the relevant help they need for their circumstances. I’m reminded that while many families may feel the pressure to fund all of the latest toys and gadgets on their children’s Christmas lists, for some the challenge of putting food on the table is difficult enough.

The Hub’s storage rooms look particularly plentiful at this time of year – in part due to the supermarket collections held in Tring and Hemel Hempstead’s Tesco stores which brought in a total of £7,656.85 worth of food in just three days.

But Sharon says this is certainly not always the case. She explained: “As recently as August, our shelves were almost empty. We have been very blessed with recent harvest donations from schools and churches, as well as the Christmas collections.

“We are well stocked at the moment, but with the current demand, it will all be gone by the end of January so we do need keep that support going throughout the year.”

In the last year, DENS has seen an increase of 150 per cent in the number of people using its foodbank, and in the period from October 2012 to September this year, the service provided 1,532 emergency parcels for more than 3,000 people, including 1,185 children.

Sharon pins this worrying trend down to changes to the benefit system and rising cost of fuel bills, but also to increased awareness about foodbanks.

She said: “We are seeing a lot of people facing those difficult decisions at this time of year between eating and other important things in life.

“We get a lot of support at Christmastime which is wonderful, but we face this challenge year on year.”

> Look out for next week’s feature and accompanying video on another of DENS’ invaluable services – the night shelter – at Christmastime.