April 23 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Norwich Foodbank will feed hundreds of hungry people across the city this Christmas. In the second part of our series, MARK SHIELDS meets the legion of selfless volunteers whose efforts are a lifeline to so many.
As a volunteer at a distribution centre on the outskirts of Norwich, Reet Evans is the smiling face of the foodbank.
She’s also the sympathetic ear, the warm hug and the shoulder to cry on.
Working one morning a fortnight with her husband, Al, at the Gateway Vineyard Church in Nelson Street – the busiest of the city’s 11 distribution centres – her job is more than just delivering parcels to queue at the door.
“Some people who come here haven’t eaten for three weeks, or they’ve just been living by diving in the bins,” she says. “Some just come to cry because they have been so desperate for so long. When they find someone who cares, and they’re hungry and emotional, they break down.
“Others tell us they can’t take the soup or the pasta, because they’ve got no gas or electric at home. When people have no money, what are they supposed to do?”
She and the team see people of all ages, families, single mothers, pregnant women: everyone and anyone in need. While they collect their parcels they are given a warm drink and someone to talk to. Fresh vegetables, sweets, toiletries and clothes are also on offer, depending on what has been donated that week.
“We see people who have been made redundant, and suddenly cannot afford to pay the bills, people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” she says. “We want this to be somewhere people can come and feel a part of something.”
It takes an army of volunteers to sort, pack and distribute the tons of supplies that are donated to Norfolk’s foodbanks every week.
And the strength of the volunteers is not only measured in the boxes they carry, but the support they offer for the thousands of people and families in crisis.
When people hit rock bottom, putting food on the table for their family is only the first step – which is why foodbank volunteers are trained to offer a sympathetic ear, and make sure they know where they can get further help.
This Christmas, the Norwich Evening News is asking readers to think of the city’s hidden hungry, and make a donation to ensure they have enough to put food on the table.
Grant Habershon, Norwich Foodbank’s project manager, said the foodbank could not exist without the kindness of its volunteers, or the generosity of the public, and urged readers to follow suit.
He said: “We are in a position to see the best and worst. We see the people in the greatest need, yet we also see the amazing generosity of the public in donating food.”
Businesses, schools and churches are regular donors to the foodbank, but 80% of its stock in 2013 has been donated by the public – people adding a tin or a packet from their weekly shop, or going further to fill an entire food parcel.
Together, they contributed a staggering 45 tons of food to make sure their neighbours in need didn’t go without.
Every item is processed at the foodbank’s warehouse and headquarters in Ivy Road: weighed in, sorted, shelved by date, and repacked into the nutritionally-balanced boxes for singles, couples and families.
That work is done by volunteers, who use their own time and money to ferry the boxes to the city’s 11 community distribution centres where volunteers make sure they get to the people, referred by professionals, who need them.
“What our volunteers are there for is a bit of care and compassion,” said Mr Habershon.
“The people who come to us have been here, there and everywhere, but when they come to us they get a cup of tea, a slice of cake and a food parcel.”
The Trussell Trust, which runs a national network of foodbanks, is a Christian charity, but those involved in Norfolk’s foodbanks are “of all faiths and none,” said Mr Habershon.
“We have lots of support from churches, because it’s part of their faith. But it’s something that’s bred in all humans: looking out for each other and loving your neighbour.”
And the spirit of the foodbanks spreads far and wide. Many clients return week after week not to pick up food, but just to talk and know someone is listening. Others bring food back.
“People tell us ‘I’m paying back the food you gave me’,” said Mr Habershon.
“They needed help and we were there for them and now they have come back to return the favour for someone else.”