Churches and charities are facing an overwhelming demand for assistance as Bermudians feel the pain of the recession.

Food programmes across the island have seen demand for their services more than double in the last year.

And as job losses and overtime cuts continue to bite, religious leaders say they are seeing more and more ordinary people turning to them for help.

A growing number of ‘working people’ who have recently lost their jobs or have seen their hours cut are seeking help with basics like groceries, rent and electricity bills.

Major Shawn Critch of the Salvation Army said its daily food programme is running $50,000 over budget for the financial year.

He said demand for the service had far exceeded expectations.

“We have seen a significant and sustained increase in demand over the last nine months,” he added.

Several churches also reported that the numbers seeking charity had increased as cutbacks begin to impact the island.

The Bermuda Industrial Union yesterday announced that it had agreed to a three-month freeze in overtime pay in an attempt to save Government $1.5million.

Senator Kim Wilson, Minister for Economy Trade and Industry, said that while up to date unemployment statistics were unavailable, anecdotal evidence pointed to a “new reality” of a more competitive job market.

And she revealed details of a partnership with the island’s churches (see separate story, above) to provide support and  ‘soft skills’ training to jobseekers.

Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Kurtz welcomed the scheme, saying the churches had to come together to fight growing poverty in the community.

The Catholic churches charity — the St Vincent de Paul society – has been inundated with requests for help in recent months.

Island-wide collection

Bishop Kurtz said the society, which provides funds for BELCO bills, groceries, rent or medical emergencies as a ‘stopgap’ measure for those in need, was in great demand.

“This is the first year we have had to have an island-wide collection in all of our churches to help honour the requests that have come in.”

Joanne Judd, president of the charity, said the annual budget was normally around $30,000 but parishioners had stepped up to fund $50,000 worth of handouts last year,

The church’s programme is designed as a ‘stop gap’ for emergencies and those needing long-term financial support are referred to other agencies.

Doreen Blee, who administers the food voucher programme for the Anglican Church, has observed a similar increase in demand.

“I would say it has more than doubled. We had no idea our numbers were going to get this high. We are standing here with our mouths open that there are this many people are in genuine need.”

She said those looking for help were not all down-and-outs or homeless people normally associated with soup kitchens and food programmes.

“These are ordinary people that have lost their jobs and can’t tell their children there is nothing to eat.”

Major Critch said many people coming into the Salvation Army for support were employed, but still needed assistance.

He said the Food Bank, which runs from 10am until 1pm five days a week, was seeing up to 50 people on its busiest days.

“It certainly is a challenge to keep up with the increase in demand. “Looking at our food bank on King Street we had a budget of $23,000 for the financial year. That has already been spent – the latest figure was almost $80,000.”

He said the Salvation Army’s hot meal programme and its thrift shop were also seeing increasing numbers.

The Christmas period saw an additional spike in the number of people looking for support: “I was surprised to see some of the individuals in the line – some of them were clearly employed but still needed assistance for a variety of reasons.”

Pastor Gary Simons, of the Cornerstone Bible Fellowship, said his church had observed similar trends: “Absolutely, we have seen an increase of people in need — it has more than doubled in the last year with regards to those needing help. That is not just in our congregation but those in the community coming to us for help.”