CAPTION: CHAT has delivered more than 1800 food parcels during the pandemic

Tackling Pandemic Poverty in Rural Devon

Posted: 15th January, 2021

A charity which tackles homelessness in rural Devon says during the Covid-19 pandemic it has been five times busier than it would be normally.

The Churches Housing Action Team (CHAT), based in Tiverton, runs a foodbank and has a support and advice team who help people with housing issues, tenancy support and debt and money management.

During the past year they have also been working with local schools, churches and supermarkets to deliver more than 1800 food parcels to families in Mid Devon.

The CEO, Alison Padfield, said “We have seen people come to us in the last few months who have never had to use the foodbank before.

“A lot of people who were just about managing have now used their resources and can no longer make ends meet.”

“People go to a foodbank when they are in a crisis, and while we help with that immediate crisis we can often uncover the underlying issue.

“It is important to us that people are not dependent on the foodbank, but that we empower them to be in a position where they can manage without it.”

CHAT celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2020

CHAT was created in 1995 by a small group of Christian volunteers with a mission to tackle homelessness, avoid evictions and bring hope to the communities of Mid Devon.

“The charity has gotten bigger and the need has gotten greater.”

Peter Day is a churchwarden at St George and St Paul’s Church in Tiverton and has worked with the charity for 15 years and is now a trustee.

He said: “At the peak of the pandemic we were five times busier than the same period in the previous year.

When the charity was founded, we hoped in a sense that we would do ourselves out of business, but it’s evolved and the charity has gotten bigger and the need has gotten greater, even prior to the pandemic starting.”

CHAT distributed over 300 food parcels over the Christmas period.

With a team of 9 staff members and approximately 20 regular volunteers, the charity has been hard at work delivering food to those in need.

“We have what we call crisis packs, which is seven days’ supply of basic foods, pasta and long-life milk and then in recent months we’ve done some booster packs, which are sort of extras really, to top up a families’ food storage cupboard.”

A recipient of one of CHAT’s food parcels said: “I was overjoyed with the food and grateful for everything. The people who delivered it were nice and polite and did it in such a way that I didn’t feel exposed in front of my neighbours.”

Another said: “I was really grateful, it came at just the right time”

“We don’t call ourselves a homelessness charity, we call ourselves our charity working in the prevention of homelessness.”

CHAT is based in Tiverton and provides support to the Mid Devon area.

Peter said: “It’s easy to focus on Plymouth or Exeter where homelessness is perhaps a bit more visible, but the issue is just the same in rural communities.

“We don’t call ourselves a homelessness charity, we call ourselves a charity working in the prevention of homelessness.”

CHAT works with local councils as well as supermarkets like Morrisons and Tesco where customers can drop-off food in a donation box to support the charity’s mission.

They also work closely with schools and churches to identify families who are struggling.

Peter said: “We put together quite a number of school booster packs for families that were identified by their school as being on very low incomes and therefore had children on free school meals. And we do rely on the churches a lot for financial support but also for prayer support as well.”

Due to the pandemic, CHAT delayed its 25th anniversary plans which included 25 different events to celebrate their history and raise funds.

“Fundraising is one of the most challenging things anyway and at the present time, it’s going to be increasingly difficult as charity income will be down just as church income is down. It will always be a challenge but thankfully we can always trust God and look to his provision.”

If you would like to support the work CHAT are doing either financially or by donating to their foodbank, you can find all the relevant information here.

If you or someone you know needs some extra support or would like to know how to get involved with their local foodbank, we have a page on our website with information on Devon’s foodbanks.