AN urgent cash injection has been allocated in a bid to tackle alarming levels of food poverty across Barnsley which has seen food bank referrals soar during lockdown.

The funding stream - dubbed the Coalfields Food Insecurity Response Fund - is worth £100,000 and is a joint venture between the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the Company Shop Group.

Projects supporting their communities in Barnsley are able to apply for up to £2,500 worth of vouchers - which would then be subsequently doubled - and will be granted membership to Company Shop, if successful, to maximise their purchasing power.

Andy Lock, head of operations for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, said: “Since lockdown, we have seen an unprecedented demand for food banks as poverty and hunger has hit across the town.

“This is expected to get worse as job losses intensify and hours are cut.

“Before Covid-19, our communities were already experiencing significant health inequalities so with this added adversity, they are in crisis and need our help in accessing good quality, healthy and affordable food.

“Whether we support food banks, food parcel schemes or meal delivery services, we must get food onto the table of those people that cannot afford it.”

Almost 5,000 hungry people were fed in Barnsley in the last year according to shock new figures revealed by a local food bank - with a quarter of those being handed vital supplies during lockdown.

Suzanne Storey, manager at the Barnsley Foodbank Partnership, has been ‘overwhelmed’ with the support of the volunteers who have helped them keep up with demand in times of need.

“This increase in numbers during the pandemic is down to people being put on furlough, loss of jobs and families struggling without school - it’s been a tough time for people,” she told the Chronicle.

“We target the people who are in financial hardship so to be able to feed this amount of people is what we aim to do.

“We cannot run without our volunteers. They truly are the heart and soul of this and their hard work has made this number possible.

“We’ve had new volunteers stepping in and helping us deal with the demand. It’s an ever-evolving picture day-to-day.

“It just shows how our local community to pull together at this time. I can’t thank them enough for sparing their time with us.”

More than 4,400 primary and 2,200 secondary school children in Barnsley rely upon free school meals, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, and it’s thought many will go hungry during the lay-off from school.

Steph McGinty, retail, people and communities director at the Company Shop Group, added: “We have worked closely with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for many years and are thrilled to be partnering on this new initiative which will help both organisations to reach even more children and families across the coalfield communities, at a time when they will benefit from our support the most.”