Elmbridge Foodbank

An article on the Elmbridge Foodbank written for Harvest 2013. 

It is 18 months since the Foodbank in East Elmbridge became a reality and it was felt time to take an in-depth look at this much needed facility within our community. With Harvest on the horizon, food (both physical and spiritual) is on our minds.

The first question most people ask is why an affluent area such as Elmbridge needs a Foodbank at all? The answer is that for every highly paid, well-housed family in the Parish, there is one at the other end of the scale - even if the majority prefer not to acknowledge it. 

There is also the misconception that the food is just handed out to 'people who should be able to feed themselves'. Foodbanks are not there to provide families with their everyday meals.  They are an emergency stopgap for those in a crisis situation where they and their children will not have a meal for a few days.

The Foodbank began 18 months ago in a very gentle way by helping people of the Lower Green community in times of dire need. The Church of the Holy Name started collecting food on a weekly basis, it was kept at the Community Centre and handed out from there.

Gradually it expanded until churches of all denominations in the area became involved, with a steering committee made up of people from each participating church. With this expansion came the requirement for more food and with that the need to store it. It also became apparent that the system would need to be formalised to ensure food was getting to the right people at the right times.

The organisers turned to the Trussell Trust for advice.  It is an umbrella organisation for Foodbanks, with years of experience in this country and abroad, and it has developed a package for members with advice on all matters, including the training of volunteers.

"We needed to be more formal about the way the Foodbank was working," commented Bridget Williams, Christ Church representative on the committee. "With the help and advice of the Trust we have been able to move forward and are now have a recognised position within the community."

Today, major changes have been implemented and the Foodbank is now based at All Saints, Weston Green - saving the need to pay for a lock-up to store the food. During September a second one will open at St Peter's, Molesey, giving easy access to a wider group of people.

To receive help from the Foodbank a person must be referred by the Social Services, doctors, churches, schools, Job Centres or the Citizens Advice Bureau.  They are given a voucher to present at the Foodbank and in return they will get up to three bags of food, covering three days. All the food is non-perishable so that it will keep well in storage.

The bags will include breakfast cereal, long-life milk, fruit juice and tins of soup, meat and vegetables, curry and rice, pasta and sauces, pies and tins of fruit/puddings/custard.  There will also be tea, coffee and sugar included. At Christmas and Easter the Foodbank likes to be able to add in a few luxury items such as mince pies and chocolate biscuits.

All food is donated by you and me, the great British public.  Both Waitrose and Tesco have kindly allowed collection days outside their stores and shopping trolleys have been filled with tins and packets from shoppers. Particularly popular has been the donation of the 'free' items in the BOGOF offers.

Donations are also welcomed at the centres but it is best to contact foodbank@allsaintsweston.com to find out what is needed - there are only so many cans of baked beans that a family can eat!

The food is handed out by a band of 26 volunteers who prepare the bags of food and make sure that they are giving out appropriate food to the applicant - there is no point in giving tuna to someone who does not eat it. This is also the opportunity for the volunteers to talk to the applicants and just check that there is no other help that they could be given.

Last November funding became available to employ a part-time co-ordinator to oversee the day to day running of the organisation. Taking over the role this month is Abi Curtis who will be taking-on a well-run community project.

Since opening 18 months ago, the Foodbank has provided 114 meals, 52 for adults and 62 for children, to people with wide ranging reasons for coming to the Foodbank, including benefit loss, sickness and homelessness. It is open to all with need in our area, be they single, a couple or families, provided they meet the criteria.

If you would be interested in giving some time to the Foodbank do contact Abi Curtis on foodbank@allsaintsweston.com.