HARD-UP families in Nelson can barely afford to feed their children, a councillor has claimed.
Coun. Eileen Ansar believes the town is in the grip of hidden hunger as dozens of families starve in silence.
The Clover Hill ward councillor likened the situation to wartime Britain as young pupils arrive at schools with only bread to eat and mothers report skipping meals so their children do not go hungry.
Organisations have seen a rise in demand for emergency food parcels by crisis-hit families.
But charity chiefs believe they have only scratched the surface in Nelson.
Coun. Ansar is calling for a food bank to be rolled out in town to help those most in need.
She said: “It is a hidden problem. This situation is very real and it is happening in Nelson.
“We are living in 2012 and we are looking at a situation where people are going hungry.”
She explained that Nelson’s hunger problem has surfaced in the town’s primary and secondary schools.
Dinner ladies have told how some children come to school with just two slices of bread to eat and others with just biscuits.
“It is awful. If you have got children turning up with just two pieces of bread in a lunch box, that says it all.
“How many children are suffering in silence and are too ashamed or frightened to say anything? It is crazy.
“But it is not just in schools. We know mums who are skipping meals as they cannot afford to eat.
“We are hearing things now that our parents were telling us when we were little from during the war. It is scary.”
Shock Government figures released this week showed one in four Pendle households were struggling with fuel poverty – forcing many to choose between heating and eating.
But Coun. Ansar believes Government cuts to housing benefits mean single people have had to give up both to survive.
“We have got a situation people are only getting £55 a week housing benefit when the average rent in Nelson is £88. People are being left short.
“Gas, electricity and food are the first things to go to keep a roof over their heads. It is impossible for people to survive on that little money.
“They are being forced to make a choice whether to not eat or get thrown out of their houses.”
She fears families are not coming forward because of the stigma of hunger – but hopes local organisations will be able to help.
Community Solutions Lancashire, which runs a food bank delivering emergency parcels to families alongside 49 other agencies, has begun work in Nelson.
Director Martin Hirst said: “The demand has been growing. Some of that is awareness about us but the vast majority is that more and more people are needing help.
“But we are only scratching the surface. We are trying to get ourselves established in areas of Pendle.
“We are trying to assess the need, as nobody knows how bad the problem is.”
One group, Community Solutions, has linked up with is the Grassroots project at St Philip’s Church, which has begun offering food parcels to crisis families.
Grassroots manager Suzanne Waddicor said: “It is for people in dire need or families in crisis situations.
“The response from the agencies has been fantastic – saying ‘this is just what we need’ with people who have lost their benefits.
“We are trying to make a positive impact on people’s lives.”
A soup kitchen is open every Saturday and the group offers healthy meals at cost price – but Grassroots relies on food donations from the community as well as support from supermarkets like Morrisons and Asda.
To donate food, contact Suzanne at the Leeds Road centre on 01282 877640.
More information about Community Solutions can be found at www.community solutionslancashire. co.uk.