“Ask for help now if you think you’ll need it this Christmas,” say councils

With food banks and other support organisations running reduced or limited services over the Christmas period, South Oxfordshire District Council and Vale of White Horse District Council are urging residents to think ahead and get in touch now if they’ll need help with food or essential supplies.

The councils’ own Community Hub service will be running a limited service and want to make sure families like Andrew’s do not suffer this Christmas.  Andrew and his family had less than a day’s worth of food left in the house when his whole family had to self-isolate.

A Covid-19 breakout at his child’s school meant Andrew couldn’t go to work, which left him with no money for food or bills. He called our Community Hub for help.

Andrew is not alone in being left with little or no income for essentials as a result of Covid-19. The councils’ therefore want to encourage those in similar situations to access the support that’s available to make sure its residents aren’t left without supplies over the holidays. Andrew’s call resulted in an emergency food parcel and much more. He was signposted to Berinsfield Information and Volunteer Centre who assessed his financial situation and provided debt consolidation advice.

His housing advisor arranged a referral to the Didcot Baptist Church Emergency Foodbank, and the Emergency Help Didcot community group who arranged ongoing deliveries of food parcels. Andrew was also advised to apply for a Track and Trace grant, to relieve the financial pressure of not being able to go to work.

The Community Hub provides support to people who are in crisis as a result of the pandemic. Since April the team have received 1,300 requests for help and sent out 806 food parcels.

Our team of specially trained call-handlers also signpost people to foodbanks, community support groups, NHS services and other agencies who can help.

Cllr Maggie Filipova-Rivers, South Oxfordshire District Council’s cabinet member for community services, says: “We don’t want anyone to go hungry at any time, especially over the Christmas period. Like most organisations, we’ll be operating very limited services between Christmas and New Year to give our officers a well-earned break. Please do get in touch with our Community Hub this week if you can, if you think you are going to need extra support over Christmas.”

Cllr Helen Pighills, Vale of White Horse District Council’s cabinet member for healthy communities, says: “It’s been a difficult year and we know that for some people, Christmas could be a challenging time. Our Community Hub has been supporting people throughout the pandemic. Similarly, the team has been signposting those in crisis to other charities, support groups and agencies who can provide ongoing support. Lots of those organisations will also be taking a break over Christmas. If you think you may struggle over Christmas, please get in touch as soon as possible so that you can access the support you need.”

The council’s Community Hub will be running an emergency service for residents that need urgent food support from 24 December. The service will be available on Thursday 24, Tuesday 29, Wednesday 30 and Thursday 31 December, from 9am-5pm, by calling 07919 381 605. 

From 4 January the hub will be operating as normal and will be available between 8.30am – 5.30pm Monday to Thursday and 8.30am to 4.30pm on Fridays. In an emergency it’s best to call the hub on 01235 422600 but you can also email community support@southandvale.gov.uk.

Here are some other real case studies (but with the names changed to respect people’s privacy:

Nicole’s story

Nicole and her partner’s business suffered immensely due to Covid-19. Unexpected expenses and competing family needs meant their Universal Credit payment wasn’t enough for the month.

Unable to afford food and essential supplies, Nicole contacted the Community Hub via the council’s website to request support.  Due to the immediate need of food, formula and nappies, our Community Logistics team distributed a food parcel which also included supplies for a baby.

Nicole was signposted to Citizens Advice for financial assistance including a hardship grant supermarket voucher; and the Didcot Emergency Foodbank for ongoing food provisions. The Didcot Good Neighbour Scheme delivered weekly food parcels. Nicole was also referred to the Oxford Baby Bank for additional nappies and clothing for the baby. Nicole was grateful to the hub as without it she said she wouldn’t have known that all this support was available or how to access it.

Arthur’s story

Arthur from Didcot approached the Community Hub on a Wednesday in November. He was out of money with only half a loaf of bread in the house.

Arthur, who is clinically extremely vulnerable was advised to shield by the NHS. He didn’t have access to cash until the following Monday. South and Vale’s Community Drivers delivered an emergency food parcel that day. He was referred to the Didcot Emergency Foodbank for longer term support. Arthur asked a friend to collect his supplies for him while he was shielding. Arthur was impressed with how efficiently his case was resolved.

Lisa and Daniel’s story

Lisa contacted the Community Hub on behalf of her clinically vulnerable son Daniel. As Daniel has regular hospital appointments and lives with Lisa, they were both instructed to isolate throughout the second lockdown.

Their Universal Credit payments had recently been reduced due to an overpayment, putting the family under increased financial strain. This meant they couldn’t afford supermarket delivery slots. Lisa and Daniel did not have family or friends in the area who were able to collect shopping or food for them.

The Community Hub put Lisa and Daniel in touch with Wantage Independent Advice Centre to apply for a food voucher and to make sure they were receiving the benefits they are entitled to.

We also signposted them to Wantage Mix for free weekly food box deliveries throughout lockdown, as well as providing the details for a local community group for support with shopping.

Mr and Mrs Smith’s story

Our Community Hub contacted all registered clinically vulnerable residents at the beginning of the lockdowns. In March Mr and Mrs Smith said they didn’t require our support. However, that all changed in November, when Mrs Smith told our call-handler that the couple had both fallen the day before we got in touch.

They had been unable to get up to call for help for hours. Mrs Smith also shared that her husband has Alzheimer’s.

Our caller contacted experts in the Adult Social Care Team who contacted Mr and Mrs Smith for an assessment of their care needs. When Mrs Smith said the couple were finding lockdown lonely, we gave her the number for Age UK so she could get more ongoing support.

Rebecca’s story

Rebecca contacted the Community Hub when she started experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19. Rebecca and her partner were new parents and overwhelmed with the cost and responsibilities that come with a new-born. Rebecca asked for help with food, consolidating debts, paying bills and emotional support for herself.

The community hub signposted Rebecca to Citizens Advice, where advisors issued a £250 supermarket voucher. Citizens Advice also provided information and help with Rebecca’s bills, and are supporting her with a debt repayment plan. Rebecca was also signposted to the Henley Lighthouse Foodbank who were able to arrange a food parcel delivery for the family.

The community hub also completed a referral for the Oxford Baby Bank which will provide the family with nappies and clothing suitable for their new-born. A further referral was completed for the Help-Hub, who offer free 30-minute counselling sessions. Rebecca was provided with a range of further mental health and family support resources and encouraged to connect with them for ongoing support.

Rebecca expressed her gratitude for the support from the community hub and was thankful to know that she can contact the District Council for help and support.