AS many communities across the country have seen an increased need for foodbanks, Okehampton is bucking that trend, as numbers of people relying on the service drops to its lowest figures in recent memory.

Every Tuesday and Friday morning, volunteers at Okehampton Baptist Church give out food parcels to people struggling to put food on the table.

The organisation rose to prominence following the mass redundancies at Polestar and Robert Wiseman Dairies in 2011, and the number of parcels being handed out each week rose to over 20.

In the last couple of months, figures have dropped to around seven or eight parcels being handed out a week, a huge drop on the previous twelve months.

Dermot Seale, chairman of Okehampton Foodbank, said that the way Okehampton Foodbank has operated since splitting away from the Trussell Trust in 2012 has helped to contribute to that drop in numbers.

He said: 'The number of parcels we give out week on week varies slightly, but contrary to the public perception our numbers are steady to diminishing.

'The number of parcels we are handing out now is considerably lower than twelve months ago.

'It appears nationally that the trend is that more and more people are using foodbanks.

'But we are contrary to that trend and handing out less. I would say that it is possible part of the reason numbers have gone down is because we have changed our system and try to help people at source, directing them to agencies and organisations that can help them in the long term.

'If you hand out food parcels without offering that long term support or direction, people will keep coming.

'We are happy to help people by giving food parcels, but we also want to help people address their problems and help in other ways we haven't before.'

The team that runs the foodbank expected a big surge in the need for parcels over the Christmas and New Year period — but it never materialised.

Mr Seale said: 'During the Christmas week, we had a couple of extra people, but that was it.

'We were expecting a huge spike like in previous years but it never happened. It is very encouraging.

'Of course, we would like to be in a situation where there is no need for foodbanks, but we will do our best to offer as much help to people as possible.

'The support for the foodbank has been tremendous.

'We have the Co-op on side with a collection point there, there is a collection point in Waitrose now, and the Lidl warehouse puts aside dented things or other things they can't necessarily sell but are perfectly good.

'With the support of the general public making donations and dropping into OK Leisure or giving anonymous monetary donations, the support is tremendous.

'Often there are bad news stories out there, but the support we get and the current situation at the foodbank is all very positive. We hope that continues.'

Donations to the foodbank of food and money are always welcome.

Gifts of food can be delivered to Okehampton Baptist Church on a Tuesday or Friday between 10am and noon, or to OK Leisure on Fore Street during shop opening hours.

Foodstuffs ideal for donation include tinned goods, potatoes, fruit, vegetables, corned beef, pasta and pasta sauce. Gifts of money, which will pay for much needed food, can be sent to Okehampton Baptist Church, 18 Limehayes Road, Okehampton, EX20 1NX.

Cheques should be made payable to 'Okehampton Baptist Church — Foodbank'.

Okehampton Foodbank is there to help anyone in genuine need. If you need the foodbank's help, visit the Baptist Church on a Tuesday or Friday between 10am and noon, or call the emergency freephone on 0800 978 8563.

If you would like to offer your services as a volunteer, please call Dermot Searle on 07854 579038.