FOUR times as many people are using Yate’s foodbank compared to last year, the Gazette can reveal.

The volunteer-run service, which operates from The Candle shop on Station Road, is now feeding up to 100 people a week, a third of whom are children.

The dramatic increase in the number of families in need of emergency food parcels is being blamed on benefit cuts and delays to payments with around 50 per cent of people affected by recent changes to the system including the bedroom tax. Others have often suffered a family breakdown or domestic violence or are on zero hours contracts.

“We are giving away half a tonne of food a week,” said Bob Vernon, project manager for the Yate, Thornbury and Mangotsfield foodbanks. “We have over 100 referrers including doctors, social workers, the Job Centre, Merlin Housing Society and Sure Start children’s centres.

“We don’t judge who comes here. If someone has a voucher we will feed them.”

Mr Vernon, a retired Indesit worker and active Christian, set up the foodbank through the Trussell Trust three years ago.

“We were getting people coming in to The Candle and saying they hadn’t eaten for three or four days,” he said. “And that was increasing.

“We were feeding people on an ad hoc basis so I looked it up and found the Trussell Trust. We opened in November 2011 with the help of almost all the churches in Yate and Chipping Sodbury.”

Fifty volunteers accept donations of food from churches, schools, individuals and businesses twice a week storing up to seven tonnes of tinned and non-perishable food, toiletries and even nappies. The doors then open to people in need who are offered a cup of tea and a chat before exchanging their vouchers for 10 nutritionally-balanced meals and household items.

“We don’t beat people around the head with a Bible, we just like to show that there are people who care,” said Mr Vernon. “Most people are very grateful but they are also ashamed and embarrassed.

“It has certainly changed me. Some of the stories you hear will tear you apart, the way people are treated, the loneliness they feel.

“I am not wealthy but I haven’t felt the effects of government changes or the recession but these people have felt the lot. It has changed my view the way those who are less fortunate are always the hardest hit.”

He said some clients would be fed on the spot if they hadn’t eaten that day. Others have turned up in designer clothes but have been made redundant and have no food or money to buy any.

“We are there to fill that gap and see them through,” said Mr Vernon. “We just try to understand. Often we become very selfish and we don’t know our neighbours.

"The foodbank raises awareness that there are people in our area who are struggling and we couldn’t do what we do with public support.”

The foodbank will accept three vouchers per family in a six-month period. It opens Tuesdays (2-4pm) and Fridays (10am-12noon) when donations are also accepted. The foodbank is also appealing for the use of a garage to store more food. Contact Bob Vernon on 07757 255751.