A SHOCKING statistic if ever there was one – 17,000 people received a three-day supply from food banks in County Durham alone last year.

That figure will rise to yet another record level this Christmas as the impact of universal credit results in deeper poverty.

That food banks are needed at all in 2017 is tragic but there are 27 of them across Durham, with an ever-growing demand for help.

Thankfully, help comes in from all kinds of directions, much of it unheralded. Take County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service as an example. We all know the value of firefighters when it comes to dealing with blue light emergencies, but I’m happy to report that there’s much more to our local fire service than that.

Last week, I happened to be visiting the fire service’s training base at Bowburn when I overheard talk of a lunch-break delivery being made to a food bank collection point in Chester-le-Street. This was not something the firefighters planned to shout about, just an unannounced good deed for the local community that would have gone largely unnoticed had I not insisted on tagging along.

A crew from Red Watch, based at the intriguingly-named High Handenhold, turned up in their fire appliance, along with support staff from the training centre, and unloaded box-loads of goodies, including luxury biscuits, mince pies, Christmas puds, and selection boxes for children.

Fire training centre administrator Julia Errington, who helped organise the appeal, said: “The response from the staff has been fantastic.”

And Kelly Smith, Supply Manager for County Durham Food Banks, was naturally grateful as she weighed in the delivery at 138 kilos of festive fayre, equating to 172 meals.

“It’s so welcome because we couldn’t survive as a service without this kind of generosity,” said Kelly.

Red Watch manager Alan Redshaw explained: “We just really enjoy getting involved with the local community and doing something beyond our normal duties that we know is going to help. It’s just sad that it’s needed at all in this day and age.”

Over the past 12 months, 123 tons of food has been donated to the food banks in Durham, and good on the county’s fire and rescue service for playing its part, as well as quietly raising £13,000 for various charities since January.

Coming to the rescue is not all about fighting fires and freeing people trapped in car crashes.

THERE was further Christmas cheer to be found last week when, as a Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham, I helped officiate at a ceremony at Darlington Town Hall, where 16 new British citizens were sworn in.

They came from China, the Philippines, Iran, India, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Canada, South Africa, Romania, Israel and Iraq, with all kinds of reasons for settling in Britain.

They included 41-year-old Jabir Allah Shamki, who had fled the war in Iraq in 2007 and somehow made it to England. He was reluctant to go into detail other than to shake his head and say it had been “a difficult journey”.

He met his wife Fatima and their little boy, Haidarali, was born at Darlington Memorial Hospital three years ago.

“Darlington is a fantastic place,” said Jabir. “The people are so friendly and we feel happy and safe now.”

At a time of so much international division, it was a reassuring encounter.

DUE to one of those nasty production errors, the conclusion to last week’s column – about a little girl called Tempy Pattinson – was annoyingly unreadable.

So, on the basis that Tempy is rather special, I’m going to repeat what I was trying to say before the gremlins so rudely interrupted.

I was explaining that five-year-old Tempy had been the first winner at this year’s Local Heroes Awards for her support of the Help For Heroes charity.

It all began when she saw people selling poppies and she asked her mum what it was all about.

When remembrance was explained to her, she said she wanted to do something to show soldiers how much she cares about them. She went on to raise £350 for the charity by completing a 100 metre swim, and a triathlon.

As a result, she was invited to appear in a Help For Heroes video with veteran Simon Brown, who was blinded when he was shot by a sniper. in Iraq.

The film went viral on YouTube, with more than 100 million views, and Tempy melted hearts the world over. She then completed the Darlington Park Run over five kilometres and smashed her target of raising £2,000.

During the interval at the awards, Tempy came over for a chat..

“Are you pleased with your award?” I asked.

“Yes, very,” she replied, before pausing and asking: “On a very different subject, I don’t suppose you have any suggestions of what I might get my Mummy for Christmas?”

Believe me, this is no ordinary little girl.

HAVE a happy, peaceful Christmas everyone.