Hundreds of families get vital help through Christmas appeal

At the Cottage Centre, from left Chris Miezitis, Julie Pettit, Marilyn Livingstone, Gordon Brown MP, Pauline Buchan and Natalie Wallace.
At the Cottage Centre, from left Chris Miezitis, Julie Pettit, Marilyn Livingstone, Gordon Brown MP, Pauline Buchan and Natalie Wallace.

Without Cottage Centre boxes,

400 families would have nothing this Christmas

The green boxes are stacked in every room of the Cottage Centre. Upstairs, downstairs and in the corridor.

Four van loads have already left the centre together with a convoy of cars, and it’s barely nudged 11.00 a.m. The volunteers will be kept busy all day.

Every single box contains food to make sure almost 400 Kircaldy families get through Christmas without starving.

Everyone contains clothes to keep them warm.

Everyone contains small wrapped gifts to open on Christmas Day.

Without them, people would literally have nothing across the festive season.

No money, no food, no heating. Nothing.

The centre’s appeal started off four years ago helping just under 100 people.

This year it will reach nearly 400, and the extent of families in desperate need is growing .

The centre’s appeal isn’t just for people on benefits - there are now many in work who cannot make ends meet.

Frozen wages, pitiful zero hours contracts, caps of child benefit and the bedroom tax have all eroded the family budget to almost zero.

And when the money runs out, parents opt to skip meals in order to feed their kids or feed the meter in order to keep the chill of winter at bay.

‘‘We used to give toys as gifts at Christmas,’’ said Pauline Buchan, service manager. ‘‘Now we give food ...’’

The boxes contain all the basics - eggs, bread, milk, butter, tins, and so on.

They are designed to last eight days - to get those with nothing through Christmas and New Year and into 2014 when the agencies re-open their doors.

The Cottage centre’s vital operation is now regarded, and rated, as one of the most successful in the UK - and it is meeting a growing need.

‘‘Money has been stretched and stretched and stretched. The costs of utility bills has gone up and up, and when there are gas, electricity and food to pay for you simply can’t do all three.’’

The biggest change is the number of people in work now coming forward and asking for help - people with a regular wage who still cannot make ends meet despite every possible juggling act with their finances.

‘‘I have never seen anything like it before,’’ said Pauline.

‘‘Half of the people getting parcels are in work,but they are struggling.

‘‘They are struggling when child benefit is capped - cap any benefit and everyone on it suffers, not just those out of work - because their wages have been frozen, because they are on the minimum wage or they are on zero hours contracts.

‘‘And this is just the beginning.

‘‘By the end of 2014 I believe the numbers will mushroom as more and more people find themselves in a vulnerable position. There will be a different level in terms of the numbers we have to deal with in 12 months time.

‘‘How will we manage? We will ...’’

On the day the centre’s army of volunteers wheeled box after box into the waiting vans, the town’s supermarkets were packed to breaking point with shoppers stockpiling food for Christmas; supplies they possibly won’t eat and almost certainly will end up in the bin.

How many of them pushing trollies filled to collapse will be looking for a green box in 12 months time?