With the demand on food banks rising nationally, a Lynn man has told how the service proved a lifeline to him in his most desperate moments.
Mark Browne, 43, had hoped his luck had changed when he finally got a hostel place after three years living rough – then his benefits were temporarily stopped.
The help he was offered by staff at Lynn food bank meant so much to him that he asked if he could join as a volunteer.
Mark said: “I faced four weeks without benefits and the food bank was a proper lifeline. Although it can only provide three days’ food, you can go back three times in any six month period and I had become used to making things last.
“When you have nothing left but a bit of pride and you don’t want to ask friends for anything else, it is somewhere to turn.
“Some people feel they have no option but to go shoplifting and get a criminal record. I was able to go to the food bank and as they handed me a food parcel, it felt like a weight had been lifted.”
Mark says the Jobcentre imposed a sanction on him after he failed to meet job search requirements when he suffered a family bereavement.
The majority of people who access Lynn food bank do so because of benefit delays or changes.
Mark had just secured a place at Merchants Terrace, in London Road, Lynn, after sleeping in shop doorways and a tent in Hardwick Cemetery for months.
He got the hostel place after he lost all his possessions when his tent was set alight by drunks, thankfully not whilst he was in it.
He said: “I lost all the things I relied upon in the fire – my clothes, camping stove and sleeping bag. When you are homeless you have to decide whether to carry everything you have around with you every day or hide it and hope no-one finds it.
“It’s hard to fill your days and it’s easy to become a bit reclusive. A lot of people join the library just so they can go and sit in the warm. When the library is shut, you are just walking round and round and you just start wishing for bedtime.
“Now, when I am working at the food bank making up parcels and handing them to people, it’s so nice to see that look on their face that I know was the same look I had on my face. You can see you have made a difference.
“Some people come and you might be the first person they have spoken to for a couple of days.
“Volunteering has helped me with my confidence and given me a focus. If it wasn’t for this place I don’t know where I would be. “
While volunteering at the food bank two to three times a week, Mark is also getting help with historic drink and drug problems and is about to start a health and social care course.
Tracy Hutton, project coordinator for Lynn food bank, said: “Mark seems to have flourished and has a sense of purpose, he really enjoys giving back and it has put a smile on his face.
“It’s hard to say what real impact Food Bank has on people’s lives long-term, but on that day they come in and have a sympathetic ear and somebody is getting them some food when they can’t afford to eat. They say ‘thank you’ and they really mean ‘thank you.’
“I’ve been close to tears at times. I never realised just what poverty was on my doorstep.”