Foodbank appeal: We meet the volunteer army that feeds the ‘hidden hungry’

The Norwich Foodbank distribution centre at the Gateway Vineyard Church, Nelson Street. Reet Evans. Picture: Denise Bradley The Norwich Foodbank distribution centre at the Gateway Vineyard Church, Nelson Street. Reet Evans. Picture: Denise Bradley

Thursday, December 12, 2013
7:18 AM

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.

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“What are they supposed to do?”

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.”

13 comments

  • @ shocked at stoopidity – We all have the right to free speech in this country the last time I looked. A subject like food banks have a particular poignancy at this time of year but to me they are a bit like the chicken and the egg. Which came first, food banks or the need for food banks. Bearing in mind they were first set up in boom times in this country, ( following the model used in other countries), long before the recession. Undoubtedly there are people who are having problems juggling their money but many lead such dysfunctional lives it is not difficult to see how and why they have run out of money. Nailing my colours to the mast I don`t support food banks which will undoubtedly be hijacked by the Labour party on the lead up to the 2015 election. The real need is to educate individuals on how to manage their money better. I see so many people on benefits wasting their money and then to resort to food banks because they have no food in the larder does irk. Especially as people have donated food thinking someone is worse off than them.

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    BG

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

  • yes but where do we bring our donations too?

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    patrick

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

  • That's fine.Just explain how anyone can manage in Whitechapel when there is one three bedroomed property to rent at less than £20,000 pa? Fine when you are working. When you are not you face the UK equivalent of social engineering. By all means cap benefit but make the benefit cap after housing costs - and you can cap those at cheapest advertised + 10% (to reflect that the cheapest may not be available for long) or even an average of the cheapest five in an area. There are empty houses in some parts of the UK. Do you think that is because there are few jobs in those areas?

    Report this comment

    shocked at stoopidity

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

  • @ shocked at stoopidity - There is a legitimate argument to be had. Have food banks fuelled demand or has demand fuelled the setting up of food banks. I think it is a case of the former not the latter. Your £26k (gross about £35Knet) argument is quite spurious. The welfare state has been too generous for some people for far too long. The money has run out and you cannot expect welfare payments to be kept at the same level for eternity. You can do exactly what you want. No one is criticising you for that but there is another side of the argument that merits consideration which you seem not to want to hear. I am by no means wells off but I manage my money and prioritise my spending. That is to be applauded, not derided. It is a pity many others do not do the same. Living for today will always end in disaster.

    Report this comment

    BG

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

  • @ shocked at stoopidity - The reason why the buy to let property sector boomed was because landlords knew they would always get whatever rent they demanded courtesy of the tax payer. The welfare system is there to support people in times of need, not to pay ridiculous rental costs year in year out. No matter where you live in this country. The housing benefit has got to a ridiculous proportion of our welfare system. All political parties are now intent on capping the welfare budget. If the current situation is allowed to carry on unchecked there would be less money to spend on other, more important parts of the welfare bill.

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    BG

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

  • I've used the foodbank, homeless and without money to pay for food, they were a god send. (I'm the guy reported on BBC Radio Norfolk who took the ladies some flowers and a donation when i found a job), but their are people who take advantage of the service, who abuse the ladies who hand out the food, and whilst a fantastic service, the Foodbank needs to wise up. When a form has a " 1 " wrote on it, the users will change that to a "two" or "three. Wise up Foodbank and I will always support you

    Report this comment

    pubmandave

    Wednesday, December 11, 2013

  • Here, Here to the volunteers that work in these places, for they really are the unsung heroes in this country and not those that are paid large sums of money and get all the plaudits.

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    John L Norton

    Wednesday, December 11, 2013

  • why packets of biscuits and cakes ?

    Report this comment

    billythebookie

    Wednesday, December 11, 2013

  • well after all these compliments and praise should we really be impressed? I'm ashamed that we need such a service, needing food to feed our hungry homeless, poor and unfortunate people that should have the money to buy food for themselves. We send clothes to third world countries, when will we be setting up 'clothes banks' as we can't provide basic essentials for ourselves? Is this yet another institution that this government is proud of? shocking.

    Report this comment

    davidbrian56

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

  • Who are "The Hidden Hungry" maybe Somalia,but Norwich ,but England ! so please explain ?

    Report this comment

    Albert Cooper

    Wednesday, December 11, 2013

  • I regularly donate biscuits and cakes to food banks. Being hungry is no fun and if it is possible to make it less boring then that is what I will do. But, it may be helpful to say why. A few years ago I had responsibility for a community centre and between Christmas and New Year in 2007 we were having new windows fitted. My wife to be and I were there - using the IT suite to book our honeymoon. The window fitters were almost finished when a lady and nine year old girl arrived in somewhat of a state. She had broken up with he partner so she and her daughter were walking the streets looking for somewhere to stay. All of the local authority places were shut – and we were only open because of the windows. So, we found space in a hostel and gave the girl some chocolate bars that we had left over from a Christmas Party. The smiles and tears were amazing. Some one cared and was prepared to do more than the minimum. To person number one in this thread – this is one way that hidden hungry occur. Another way is for breadwinner just not to come home one night (usually the day of the pay packet) and another way is for partner to go away with the contents of the joint bank account. Do we refuse to support those left behind? Do we refuse to support those who have an employer that has just gone bust (and that is invariably the day before payday). Of course we do. Going back to the cake comment – I am sure that you would be delighted to spend three days eating tinned veg; pasta and beans. I admire your aesthetic nature. It is not something that I would want to do and because I would not want to do it I don’t see why others should. If you don’t want people to eat cake then your donations need not include them. And, if you don’t give anything at all I am not sure that you actually have the right to comment on the giving decisions of others.

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    shocked at stoopidity

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

  • It is very easy to manage money when you have some. It was announced, this morning, that every Blockbuster Store will close on 15th December – three days time. Can you manage your affairs with income being cut off with three days notice? Then you go and sign on – the first three days you get nothing and then something will come through. Will it be through before everything shuts down for Christmas? Maybemaybe not. In the meantime bills have to be paid. Perhaps you have just come out of prison. When you come out they give you £46.00. They may help with a deposit for a bedsit. NACRO say that the quality of advice varies from prison to prison. So, you have £46.00 in your pocket. You need a duvet and pillow and a sheet; duvet cover and pillow case. You now have less than £25.00 left to last you until the Job Centre can actually deal with you. The hangers and floggers will say that prisoners deserve nothing – but the sentence is the punishment. Give them nothing and ask them to survive equals an increase in crime rate. Food Banks have been in this country for decades. The Mormon Church has operated them for their own members and those who turn up. They are nothing new – but when Shelter publish information (not rebutted) that says that 85,000 children will be in temporary accommodation this Christmas there has to be recognition of need. When London Councils are making block bookings of social housing in Newcastle and the Birmingham area because of the benefits cap we have to recognise that there is something not quite right. One size does not fit all and a benefits cap of £26,000 p.a. in an area where private rented flats start at £1,600 per month (check rightmove for Whitechapel and Stepney – hardly posh) again need becomes obvious. Yes, free speech is a right and as a liberal I will defend it with vigour. I will not accept criticism for what I give to food banks. Enjoy your baked bean Christmas – and if you don’t you may then realise that I do have a valid argument.

    Report this comment

    shocked at stoopidity

    Thursday, December 12, 2013

  • How about the Local Council allows some of its empty properties to be used as city centre distribution points so the Volunteers can reach even more people?

    Report this comment

    che bramley

    Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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