Christmas is approaching, a time of goodwill to all. In some places, though, there’s goodwill all year round. Neil Thomas visited just such a place and departed inspired.

 

If you want to see kindness in action, to witness civilisation at its best, visit a food bank.

I spent a morning at Bridgnorth Food Bank and it was a privilege to meet so many people who care about their fellow human beings.

To appreciate how vital this service is, you only have to remember that food is essential. There are many things in life you can live without but food is not amongst them.

While the devastating famines of the world are far removed from our daily lives, there are undoubtedly those in our own country who go hungry.

Trapped in poverty, families struggle to afford the basics. Children might not be starving, but they are certainly malnourished.

 

Volunteers Anne and Emilie at work

 

“Overall, Bridgnorth Food Bank provided nearly 1,700 food parcels during the year.”

 

And as the cost-of-living soars, the pressure on the poorest is sure to increase.

The first food banks in the UK emerged in 2000, set up by people no longer prepared to do nothing while children went to bed hungry. Bridgnorth’s Food Bank was set up in 2013 and has made a difference to so many lives in the past eight years.

Its latest annual report illustrates just what a major contribution it has made to tackling food poverty in the area.

 

Volunteer Julia wheels in more donations of food

 

Overall, Bridgnorth Food Bank provided nearly 1,700 food parcels during the year (February 2020-February 2021). Direct support was provided to 317 different people (181 adults and 136 children from 129 families and individuals). Of these, 140 were supported for the first time.

In total 1,604 parcels containing over 61,000 food and non-food items were distributed. In addition, 93 emergency food parcels were rushed out.

‘We are extremely grateful for the generosity of individuals, churches, statutory service providers, voluntary organisations and charities, local businesses and other organisations for the assistance provided in helping us to achieve our objectives’, the report says.

Monday mornings at the Food Bank’s headquarters at 7 West Castle Street in High Town are a hive of activity.

Manager Liz Bird leads a team of hard-working, enthusiastic volunteers who put in a proper shift to ensure that food so generously donated reaches the right mouths.

 

“It’s a nice thing to help with. You feel like you are making a difference.”

 

“What can I say about the volunteers, committee members and support workers? They are all amazing and have gone above and beyond in helping the Food Bank to support those in need. Thank you to you all,” Liz says.

I chatted to Meg, who joined as a volunteer in March last year, at the start of the first national lockdown.

“I saw an appeal for volunteers advertised on Facebook and thought it was something I would like to help with. I work from home, so I’m pretty flexible,” she explains.

Meg’s administrative skills came in very handy, for the pandemic changed the way in which the charity operated. With people forced to stay at home, house-to-house deliveries replaced the system of people collecting their food parcels in person.

“I worked on setting up the new system to operate the home deliveries,” Meg explains. “One of the first things we had to do was to recruit volunteer drivers. We brought five drivers in.”

Another volunteer Janet joined the charity 12 months ago and also brought administrative skills after a career with Wolverhampton Council.

“I had just retired and wanted to help my own local community in some way,” she explains. “It’s a nice thing to help with. You feel like you are making a difference.”

 

Manager Liz Bird

 

Although, with the lifting of Covid restrictions, people can now visit the Food Bank again to collect their parcels, the delivery service has remained in place.

Deliveries are made by volunteer driver Jonathan, assisted by his wife Bernie, who acts as navigator.

“The addresses tend to be within three miles of the Food Bank. Some people don’t have cars and simply couldn’t carry a week’s worth of shopping home so the deliveries are still important,” he says.

“I had just retired and was looking for something useful to do in the community. I find this quite humbling.”

 

Volunteer driver Jonathan

 

Another humbling aspect is the sheer scale of food donated, by businesses and individuals. As you can imagine, much of it is in tins, jars and packets with lengthier use-by dates. That does not mean that people in need go without fresh produce, though.

Volunteer Linda explains, “We give out meat vouchers for a local butcher and fruit and veg vouchers for a local greengrocer. When we are putting together food parcels, we also have to be aware of any food allergies that people might have.”

The Food Bank operates a referral system to ensure that its parcels go to those in genuine need.

Liz explains, “We don’t operate a drop-in service. If you require our assistance you have to be referred to us by one of the agencies we work with.”

These include Shropshire Council benefits team or other statutory services such as the Jobcentre Plus or organisations like Citizens Advice, Home Start and Sure Start.

Referrals can also come from health professionals, including medical practices; housing associations and any of Bridgnorth’s churches.

“Agencies will provide initial advice and issue you with a referral form so you can come along to the Food Bank.

“Our aim is to provide short term help, for instance while benefit claims are being assessed,” Liz adds.

The Food Bank also funds its own professional adviser – Housing Support Officer Lynn McKeown – one day a week, to offer a range of advice and practical help.

 

Lynn McKeown, the Housing Support Officer

 

Lynn says, “I see a lot of people every Monday, who need advice and help with a range of things. Much of what I do involves helping people to navigate the benefits system.

“A lot of our clients have just lost their jobs, so are new to the system and it can be quite complicated. You have to apply for Universal Credit online, so for those without a computer or phone, or who struggle with the technology, it can be very challenging. We are here to help.”

Christmas, you probably don’t need reminding, is fast approaching. It is a time of year when families and friends traditionally gather together to eat, drink and be merry. And, of course exchange gifts as tokens of their love and affection.

 

“I had just retired and was looking for something useful to do in the community. I find this quite humbling.”

 

We all know how expensive Christmas can be – which means the poorest amongst us often feel left out of these joyful customs. Though not if Bridgnorth Food Bank and its supporters have anything to do with it.

 

Volunteer Keith

 

“Donations definitely increase at Christmas when there is a feeling of traditional goodwill around,” Liz says.

“We don’t just get donations of food, but of presents for children and gifts that children can give to the adults in their lives. People are really generous during the festive season. They appreciate that some people have enough trouble making ends meet without the extra pressure of Christmas.”

 

Volunteers at work, sorting out some of the donations of food

 

As we have seen, the charity has a wonderful team of volunteers. Ruth – who was serving tea, coffee and biscuits in the neighbouring Baptist Church Hall on the morning I visited – volunteered right at the start eight years ago, with her husband Derek. And Keith, who was also busy in the Baptist Hall, sorting out parcels of food, is another stalwart helper.

 

Volunteers Linda and Alex

 

In all, 22 volunteers were involved in last year’s operation. There is, though, always room for more, says Liz. You will be assured of a warm welcome.

“We’re always looking for people to help us in numerous ways, such as administration, fundraising and assisting clients. If you can spare a couple of hours on a regular basis or even once in a while, please get in touch with us.

“And of course, we always need people to generously provide food or make donations to enable us to do our work.”

Bridgnorth Food Bank plays a vital role in the provision of emergency food parcels and medium-term support for the residents of Bridgnorth and the surrounding area. Where necessary, it has also provided basic essentials in addition to food, to help meet people’s needs.

 

“A lot of our clients have just lost their jobs, so are new to the system and it can be quite complicated.”

 

Professional carers and other charities recognise its importance. Referrals were made by 26 different agency partners last year.

It is very much a local charity. All of the people it helps live within a radius of 12 miles of Bridgnorth – and 56 per cent live in the town itself.

In its eight-year history, Bridgnorth Food Bank has provided direct support to 1,121 different people, including 526 families – and their pet dogs and cats.

 

 

Liz adds, “Many individuals and organisations support Bridgnorth Food Bank with financial donations, food and other items. These include churches, charities and local voluntary organisations, businesses including local supermarkets and farm shops, and local schools. Thanks to them all.

“Thank you, too, to the Baptist Church for letting the Food Bank use Number 7 and the Church and for allowing us to spread out and use more rooms during lockdown, allowing us to keep to the government guidelines. Also, thanks to the Church for starting Recharge coffee and tea service again after lockdown lifted.”

 

“We don’t just get donations of food, but of presents for children and gifts that children can give to the adults in their lives.”

 

And Liz adds, “A big thank you to everyone in Bridgnorth and surrounding villages who’ve donated so generously over the past eight-plus years. We couldn’t do it without you.”

For more information call 07960 285520 or email contactus@bridgnorthfoodbank.co.uk

 


Other food banks in Shropshire:
Oswestry & Borders Food Bank call 01691 671940.
The Trussell Trust Food Bank Whitchurch call 01948 663943.
Market Drayton Food Bank call 01630 654007.
Hope Church, Shrewsbury call 01743 272465.
Shrewsbury Food Hub call 07399 039292.
Barnabas Church Centre, Shrewsbury call 01743 364101.
Barnabas Community Projects, Shrewsbury call 01743 343336.
Food Share Project – Social Supermarket & Independent
Food Bank, Telford call 07775 505434.
Stretton Food Bank, Church Stretton call 07561 693870.
Salvation Army, Telford call 01952 620263.
Ludlow Baptist Church, Ludlow call 01584 874076.
Dawley Christian Centre & Methodist Church, Telford call 01952 505108.
Telford Crisis Support call 01952 586646.

 


 

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