Food banks rely on the generous supply of goods from concerned residents – but just as vital are the band of volunteers whose commitment and efforts keep the services running.
Audrey Reed, a team leader at the Leeds North and West Foodbank’s service at Moortown Methodist Church, has told the YEP about her role as part of our Feed A Family campaign.
After starting as a volunteer five years ago she has seen an increase in demand over that time as benefits changes and sanctions have resulted in a rising number of clients, she said.
But the kind of person who needs to use a food bank can vary.
“Crisis can happen to people who appear to be in control of their lives,” she said.
“You only need a loss of a job or sanctions or an unexpected bill and then you have no money for food.”
Frontline care professionals such as doctors, social workers, the Citizens Advice Bureau, welfare officers and others initially issue clients with a voucher, entitling them to a three-day emergency food supply.
Warehouse volunteers sort food according to type and its best before date, checking for damage and suitability, before packing it into boxes and storing, ready for use from clients who bring their voucher.
It is then made into a parcel at the for clients visiting distribution centres – seven of which come under the Leeds North and West service, one of the two main such providers in the city.
But just as important is that volunteers ‘signpost’ visitors to other services which can help them with their underlying issues. Giving them a choice about what food they want to take home is also important, Audrey said.
“Most people who come here don’t want to come here, they feel embarrassed and ashamed.
“It’s about respecting someone as an individual and giving them some self-esteem.
“There is also no point giving them food they’re not going to eat.”
Clients often also relish the chance to talk through their problems with volunteers who “purely listen”, and food banks are often set up as inviting cafes for those in need to relax in.
Volunteers are needed in some distribution centres and drivers are also wanted. For more information, contact email@example.com