As demand for food banks in Northern Ireland reaches an all time high, one Dromore man who founded a cross-community food bank in West Belfast has been challenging some of the myths surrounding their use.
Tony Meehan, a pastor at New Life City Church, Belfast, has lived in Dromore for over 14 years now with his wife Noreen and son Daniel.
A familiar face about the town, Tony has been involved in Dromore Youth for Christ, Banbridge Road Presbyterian BB and he currently serves on Dromore High School’s PTA.
Born in Andersonstown, Tony went into a Military Police and security background before his life took a change in direction and he felt called to train for the ministry.
During this time Tony made a pact with God - ‘I’ll go anywhere you send me except West Belfast,’ but within three weeks he got a call from a friend asking him to come to Twinbrook to pray with a group of ex-paramilitaries.
“It was then that I realised it wasn’t about where I wanted to be, but where God wanted me to be. God uses your life experiences to help others and I’ve been working into West Belfast for five years now.”
Tony set up the food bank from a derelict building on the Falls road in November, with the backing of the Trussell Trust. The Lawther Buildings, a former health clinic, was gifted to him by Springfield Charitable Association for the work.
Tony said: “The building was in a sorry state. It had no water as vandals had stolen the copper pipes, and doors. We went into the shell of a building with a ton of food.”
With food banks already in North, South and East Belfast, this is the first in West Belfast.
“I never want to be seen to show preference for one community over the other,” said the pastor whose church sits strategically half way between the Shankill and Falls Roads.
“The wall that divides the Shankill and the Falls doesn’t exist in our eyes, because people’s needs in both communities are the same,” he said.
Tony explained how the food bank was set up to meet people in a crisis but it’s important they don’t become dependant on it.
“We help people when something unexpected has impacted on their lives.
“There is no stereotypical client. Anybody can end up in a crisis. I’ve helped a barrister with addiction problems, professional couples trapped by negative equity on their homes, and people left in unpredictable situations due to zero hour contracts.
“On a regular basis we also give excess food to the Via Wings charity in Dromore.”
Tony can be contacted on 07870106147 or email email@example.com.