WHILE North-East foodbanks in the Trussell Trust network have collectively given out more than 64,000 emergency food parcels to people struggling to eat, hundreds of other families are being helped by grassroots community groups and independent foodbanks.

Food for Thought, which uses surplus food to cool healthy meal donations, currently delivers to between 45 to 60 households in Darlington per week.

The organisation's founder and coordinator Louise Graham said it is not a conventional foodbank, nor to service users see it that way.

She said: "The term itself has negative connotations and what we are attempting to do is to address the challenges people face in a more holistic and non-judgemental way, and responds to specific needs for healthy food, including meals.

"We hope that by using mainly surplus and waste food to redistribute we are sorting the message that the food system is unequal.

"The people who access our service may or may not also access a conventional foodbank, but often we support working families and people with physical disabilities or mental health problems who find it difficult to access a conventional foodbanks."

Kat Gillie, who receives food donations from Food for Thought, is long-term disabled due to mental health problems and is cared for by her partner.

She said: "I have used a foodbank in the past but getting there is always a struggle. I came across Food for Thought on a Facebook post that someone had shared to my daughter's school page.

"I was reluctant to get in touch because, well, because it is humiliating to think I was struggling to feed my family.

"I know there would have been times when I would have went hungry without them. They have never judged me or looked down on me for needing help. Through them we have helped others too, with donations of clothes."

Eric, who did not want to include his surname, also said he would have gone hungry without the help of Food For Thought.

The 49-year-old said: "I live in a house with other asylum seekers and I called Louise one night because we didn't have any food. She brought some for us. If you need help, she will come."

Eric, who has around £38 a week off, added: "It is not enough to live on. I am an old man, I eat well. If it not for Louise life would be difficult."

Eric has attended the group's cooking classes, benefited from supermarket vouchers and now volunteers with the organisation as a way to give back, something Ms Graham says many people who use the service do.

During Covid, the group has evolved to redistribute other items like furniture and clothes. Ms Graham gives toys to Eric for his young daughter, who is currently in Scotland.

Nic Ingham, from Darlington, starting using the town's new No Questions Asked (NQA) foodbank after losing her five-year job as a cook in March due to the pandemic.

The 36-year-old mum said: "I lost my job and then I lost my dad unexpectedly and he was helping us buy food."

Ms Ingham has been struggling with depression since finding her dad, who went to sleep and did not wake up.

She said: "I'm okay right now because we've just been paid, I know that the bills are gone and the freezer is full. I was a cook so I can batch cook meals, but when things run low I go downhill again.

"My daughter has said she will get a job but I won't let her, I want her to be a kid. I'm thankful we're not on a gas and electric meter and have to chose between eating and heating.

"When I first went to a foodbank it felt awful. People think if you use a foodbank you're on drugs or an alcoholic but actually everyone there is lovely and no one judges you. My dad always said, if you need help you should ask for it. We will start helping others as soon as we can too."

Ms Ingham is currently retaining via the Morrison Trust to find a new job.