Sadly, so many of us will know that the need for food banks has dramatically increased throughout the UK in recent years. According to a recent article in the Guardian, The Trussell Trust operates 1390 food banks across the UK. In 2016-17, it provided an astounding 1.2 million food parcels, 440,000 of which went to households with children. While the Trussell Trust, a well known nationwide charity, are incredibly fortunate to receive financial assistance from some big players and help from many of the public, there are also thought to be at least 80 more non-Trussell food banks operating in the UK.
Bellshill Community Foodbank is one of those which is ‘independently operated’, existing as a community outreach run by members of the Bellshill EU Congregational Church. While this functions under the Church’s umbrella, they entirely rely on donations of food from the public and two local supermarkets, and money from personal donations. Their team applied for a grant from the Trust, as they began to see the current economic climate negatively impact on their intake of monetary donations. They were awarded a JMA grant of £2000 in September last year, to contribute towards their vital role within the community, providing food parcels to those who are experiencing financial hardship or crisis situations. Recently, we went out to meet with Elaine Gatenby, the Church Secretary, and Margaret Laird, Church Treasurer, who oversee the running of the foodbank.
Their service is provided every Tuesday and Thursday, and is run by a group of around 18 volunteers. Elaine explained, “we’ve really been lucky, we’ve met a lot of nice people, and people who’ve been really keen to help. And we’ve been really lucky with donations, but like everything else, donations start to dry up after a while… We’ve got people that will come up and give us a bag every week, or people who give us a little cash to go and buy some of the fresh foods. All of these things help us. We do run out of the expensive items quite often, which would be tins of cold meats, glass jars of pasta or curry sauces, UHT milk… But we’re able to keep going, we’ve never turned anybody away yet because we didn’t have anything to give them. We’re lucky too, we get Greggs end of night stock as well twice a week, we get their pasties and sandwiches, and we get some from Morrisons.”
Bellshill Community Foodbank has now been contributing to the local community for three years. “This area is actually in the top ten in Scotland for deprivation. Though, the people we get are not down and out. We actually get some people who have just lost their job, and it takes six weeks to set up their benefits. So we might see them for that six weeks to tide them through.” They explained that a number of sanctions have come into place in recent years, largely affecting the benefits system, and people’s protection when they find themselves unemployed, or in many other difficult situations. “The foodbank started out as a trial run, to see if there was a need for it. And there definitely is a need for it.”
They described their JMA Award as allowing them “to go two steps further forward.” Considering the limitations of food storage that many food banks usually experience, the focus of public donations is typically on non-perishables (beans, soups, biscuits, noodles etc.), and the safe storage and provision of fresh food is often difficult. However, the ladies worked out a creative way to overcome this.
“We were able to give people a voucher for the local butchers. Some of them hadn’t had butcher meat in goodness knows how long. And we’re now also able to give out eggs…It’s been a God send. Everyone who’s got it has been so grateful. The butcher has been really good, he supplies it and then we settle up with him every so often, when we can. As a member of the public, he agreed to it, and it worked so well. It’s then supporting local business, as well as people in need in the community. At Christmas time, everybody got a voucher for steak pie. We couldn’t give turkey, as that would have been far too expensive, and to try to distribute it as widely as possible, they got a voucher for a steak pie. Weekly, they get a voucher for mince, chicken fillet and sausage in the packs, the size corresponding with the pack size, and then the eggs, so we try to give them four meals out of it.”
“Yours was the first grant we received as a food bank. It’s been an absolute blessing to us, honestly. Because we’ve been able to help about 150 people, that’s absolutely fantastic for us, because we’re a small group. Places like this just make such a big difference. Sometimes you’ll be the only person these people have spoken to all day, and you’ve helped them out a hole. Whether it be their own doing or not, we’re not here to judge. We’re only here to try and help as much as we can.”
It was a pleasure to hear about this community-driven charitable work from two incredibly kind women. While we all agreed that it is a sad and unfortunate truth that food banks are in demand across the country, everyone here at the JMA would like to thank you and your team of volunteers for your commitment and determination to help others through their difficult times. We’d also like to thank all of our supporters for raising the funds that enable us to be involved with organisations such as the Bellshill Community Foodbank.