The 4000 mark

Mark and Helen Mullins
Mark and Helen Mullins of Bedworth, Warwickshire

By Uzor Chinukwue

We’ve just crossed the 4000 mark – that’s the number of people who have been fed by the Wimbledon Food Bank. It’s a landmark for us and we watch for the next one thousand people who’ll be fed with the help of the work from our kind volunteers and regular donations made almost on a daily basis by individuals, churches, synagogues, schools and businesses. The Christmas period is a vulnerable period for many, where many experience dark moods and may sink into despair if there’s no one to help them. We would ask our readers to be on the lookout for their neighbours.

The Trussell Trust now has over 200 food banks in the UK, one of which is the Wimbledon Food Bank, and we have been open since October 2011. We’re heartbroken any time we hear sad stories as in the case of Mark and Helen Mullins, the newly-married couple who died in November 2011. Mark, 48, was an army veteran who was taking care of wife Helen, 59 at the time. But the benefits system let them down when Mrs Mullins could get neither Incapacity benefits, as “she had not been officially diagnosed with a medical condition”, nor Jobseeker’s allowance, as she was deemed unemployable because of poor numeric and literacy from a learning disability. Mr Mullins then fought to get a career’s allowance, but again was turned down until his wife was diagnosed with a medical condition.

The couple were in a pitiable situation, fearing revealing the extent of Helen’s disability would lead to her being put into care. Furthermore, they would miss out on an extra £20.30 a week in child benefits after Helen’s 12-year old child was taken away from her after she was considered incapable of taking care of her. This meant that all the couple had to survive on was the £57.50 a week from Husband Mark’s Jobseeker’s allowance (Mark had not been in the army long enough to collect a pension). The couple had no other option but to trek 12 miles to the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Coventry to get get much needed food. It seems, however, they couldn’t take another cold winter with little to eat and no heating and they were found dead in 2011, laid next to one another.

In the coming winter months we would love to do our part to prevent such tragedies, and while places like the food bank are indeed important to helping keeping hope alive there is still the responsibility in the Christmas season of being your brother’s keeper. Let’s watch out for each other. And a merry Christmas to you all.

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