SCOTLAND’S most remote foodbank has opened in the Outer Hebrides and it needs to use a commercial delivery van to get provisions to people in remote communities over 100 miles away.
The Eilean Siar foodbank, based in Stornoway, run by volunteers, faces logistical problems unknown in cities.
To get food bags from the town to far-flung locations such as Barra involves a round trip of over 200 miles and two ferry journeys - sailing across the Sound of Harris and the Sound of Barra - weather permitting.
The cost of living is high in the islands due to high fuel prices and delivery costs from the mainland leaving many people in need unable to travel to the foodbank.
But organisers at New Wine Church have recruited the services of Stornoway-based Grillburgers frozen food firm whose delivery schedules already take them the length and breadth of the islands to get vital supplies to people facing an emergency food crisis.
Each food bag contains three days worth of non-perishable food donations which are usually collected by people who have been given a food voucher from a support agency.
Donated food items are collected at Tesco supermarket in Stornoway from a “shopping list” compiled by a team of dieticians at the nationwide Trussell Trust foodbank charity, who run 372 foodbanks throughout the UK including 39 in Scotland, and are providing support to the new venture.
A spokesman for the foodbank, which opened last week, said volunteers have been using their own vehicles to deliver to Stornoway Lewis and Harris but that getting supplies to remote communities was “challenging”.
“We approached Grillburger and it took about five seconds before the guy there said he would help. They are professional and discreet. They also have no information about where the food is going as it is dropped off at an agency.”
The spokesman added: “A wide range of people use foodbanks. You might get someone in employment who gets an unexpectedly large bill and are absolutely rooked after having to pay £6oo for a car repair. Or it might be people on low incomes or those experiencing benefit delays.”
Iain MacKinnon, who owns Grillburger, said: “We go on a regular basis to the Uisits and Barra and when the foodbank folk approached us and asked if we would help we were delighted to offer our services.
“We take the food parcels down to a central point where agencies then take them to people. We do not take them to a the individuals involved as this would infringe on their dignity. Anyone in need wouldn’t have the money to get the ferry up to Stornoway. It is an excellent thing the foodbank is doing but ridiculous that such a thing is needed is this day and age.”
Scots and islanders ‘mentality’
Ewan Gurr, Scotland development officer for the Trussell Trust said remoteness was not the only problem in reaching people.
“The major challenge is not first and foremost about distance but rather the “mentality” of Scots and islanders in particular.
“Scots tend to be reserved and private and don’t want their neighbours to know they need help. The new foodbank is be commended for finding a private and confidential way of helping people while not exposing them to scrutiny.”
Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP, who attended the foodbank’s launch, said: “I regard it as a scandal that there are people in the Western Isles in the 21st century who struggle to feed themselves and their families, but this situation is sadly a reality for some people. My own view is that changes happening in the benefits system just now are making this situation much worse.
“What is positive, however, is that so many people in the islands are concerned enough so act. The New Wine Church, working in partnership with the Trussell Trust, has set up the Eilean Siar Foodbank in Point Street.