A CHURCH which runs its own foodbank is attempting to encourage more people to use the service by running a free 'shop' event for essential items.

The Influence Church, in Richmond, developed the idea after realising that lots of families in the local area were getting by – but only just.

The community shop was open on Friday, November 13 – but the church said if successful it is something it could do again or more regularly.

Suz Gregory, community manager at Influence Church, who runs the food bank StoreHouse, said when the church handed out free school meals during the earlier lockdown and summer, they realised many of those families were eligible to use the foodbank.

She said: "Sophie McGuinness, our campus pastor, came up with the idea of creating a shop environment that might make people feel more comfortable.

"Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to coming to a foodbank, when there really shouldn't be.

"We hope that in calling this a community shop, where people can pick up essential supplies for free, it will be a bit easier.

"With our foodbank, we packed a box which would provide three meals a day for the week.

"But the community shop was available for anyone to come along and pick up items they need.

StoreHouse has been running in Richmond since 2012, and in Barnard Castle since 2014.

Since then, the church has provided food for thousands of people.

People coming for the first time do not need to bring any proof of need, but any subsequent visits require evidence of income or benefits.

Ms Gregory said: "Lots of people have been affected financially by the lockdown.

"I know my own wages are all allocated for, so if they were to drop to 80 per cent, something would have to give. For many people, the food bill is the one that isn't fixed and therefore they go without.

"But we want people to know they don't have to."

Ms Gregory said it was heartwarming that the amount of donations they have received this year has been much greater than normal.

She said: "When they shops were running out of essentials like pasta and flour earlier this year, we had loads of it!

"We also normally find that we have to do our own top-up shops in order to have enough to supply the families that need our food boxes, but this year we haven't had to at all.

"The community has really stepped up and supported each other which is lovely to see.

"So, now more than ever, we don't want anyone in our town and surrounding villages to go without. We want to make sure the food is getting to all the people that need it.

"We want to get the message out that you don't need to struggle – think of us as a neighbour you can come to. I know when I was younger and living in a village there were definitely people we could call upon if we needed anything, and I'd like to think we are coming back to that way of looking out for people again."

If you need help from StoreHouse, it is open in Victoria Road, Richmond on Thursdays from 4pm until 6pm; and Galgate, Barnard Castle on Fridays from 3pm until 5pm.