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How volunteers bring food to Norwich's needy

It is now just over a year since Norwich Foodbank began providing food to people in crisis and in that time the charity has expanded at a rapid rate.

More than 10 tonnes of food has been donated to help put food on the table for those who most need it in our communities.

It has been a remarkable rise, and one that the charity’s volunteers want to see continue. But that means more food being donated and more volunteers are needed to help keep the charity running efficiently.

So I went along to the Norwich Foodbank warehouse at Henderson Business Centre, off Ivy Road in Earlham, to see how the charity feeds people in crisis in our city.

I soon saw it was no place for slackers. The volunteers at the warehouse are running a slick operation and, with Harvest Festival providing the busiest time of year for the warehouse, they have to be.

A constant stream of bulging shopping bags and boxes of tins kept arriving during my two hours with the volunteers, with the goods soon weighed, separated and put in the right place in order to complete the Foodbank emergency boxes.

The first line of defence was Tony Saunders, 68, from Salhouse. He explained that they only use in-date food, but ensure that anything up to three months out of date is donated to charities which will make use of it.

He said: “We can pack up to half a ton of food on a Friday. It looks like we have a lot in here at the moment, but this will go quickly.

“We would not let anyone starve but there are very few cases of people having three or more than three of our emergency boxes.”

Tony, like all the volunteers, has heard about some very sad situations. He explained: “A carer told me just last week about a woman who was very quiet and had been beaten up by her husband.

“She had three children and one of them was disabled, but she was very quiet so hadn’t asked for help, even though they didn’t have any food.

“There was a problem with her benefits for whatever reason and they hadn’t been eating, so the carer came straight here to get some food from us.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who won’t say anything, whether that is because they are too proud or whatever, and they will suffer in silence instead.”

The Foodbank’s administrative co-ordinator is Colin Gillett, 52, who got involved through Spixworth Methodist Church.

He explained that the volunteers do around four or five hours every Friday in the warehouse to keep the charity running smoothly.

He works with care agencies to ensure they have enough Foodbank vouchers to give to people in need and monitors whether the vouchers get used, so he gets to see the wide spectrum that they deal with.

He said: “The greatest reason we get by far is benefit delay, or people who have had their benefits cut, then it is probably debt problems, then low income and then domestic violence.

“We occasionally get people who are ‘playing the game’ but that is only 1pc or 2pc and you have to block them out.

“And I now come in on a Friday and have too much to do, which wasn’t the case when we started, so that is really good.”

Brian Winchester, 71, from Honningham, is another of the volunteers who has experienced the huge increase in how busy the Foodbank has been this year.

He liaises with all the care agencies – including Age UK, Disability Rights Norfolk and YMCA – and has seen the number of organisations he deals with shoot up to around 70. He said: “When I started it was just a day a week, but now hardly a day goes by when I’m not doing something.

“There are a lot of local people going hungry though, so it is fantastic what all the volunteers are doing.”

Jean Fuller, 60, from Thorpe St Andrew, organises supermarket collection days for the Foodbank, such as were recently held at Asda on Drayton High Road and Sainsbury’s on Pound Lane in Thorpe. There they ask people to take round the Foodbank shopping list and see if they can purchase at least a few of the items while they go round, to donate before they leave.

It sounds like a big ask for many, but there are often buy-one-get-one-free offers which people can take advantage of to ease the expense of donating.

She added: “I’ve been very lucky in my life that I’ve had my family around me in the hard times, but it’s not the same for everyone, so the volunteers here do some fantastic work.”

If you would like to volunteer to help at a supermarket collection day for Norwich Foodbank, send an email to jean.gotts@yahoo.co.uk

Has the Norwich Foodbank saved you in a time of crisis? Call reporter David Freezer on 01603 772418 or email david.freezer@archant.co.uk

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