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Out-of-date bread given to most vulnerable during pandemic

Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said it left some receiving official aid feeling like an afterthought.

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A food bank (Andy Buchanan/PA)

A food bank (Andy Buchanan/PA)

A food bank (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Stale bread and damaged goods were given to the most vulnerable and needy during the coronavirus crisis in Northern Ireland, an Ulster Unionist said.

It has left some receiving the official aid feeling like an afterthought, Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin acknowledged in a reply.

The food parcels are intended for around 80,000 people who have been asked to remain indoors and shield from the infection as well as those who are in critical need.

Ms Ni Chuilin said: “We have all got our own dignity and nobody wants to take out-of-date bread.

“The message is that you feel like an afterthought, despite all of the efforts and the good people behind that.”

Shielding at home is recommended by the NHS for people with some cancers or organ transplants whose immune system is severely repressed.

The food programme continues until the end of July.

Around 150,000 food boxes have been distributed since April.

People request support through a helpline and that bid is then assessed.

The minister said critical lessons had been learned about people’s entitlement to fresh food.

Ulster Unionist John Stewart asked the minister: “Could you look at the quality of some of that food being put out?”

He said products included out-of-date bread and damaged goods, adding that some of the most vulnerable people were being missed out.

The minister said: “That is not good enough.”

She added: “Access to the food programme has proven to be a key element of the emergency response.”

A total of £1.5 million in financial support has been given to local councils.

The minister added: “I am aware of a significant community response to those in need of food, income and connectedness.”

She answered questions at the Stormont Assembly on Tuesday afternoon.

PA