Tuesday, 09 March 2021

Covid Food Bank - Kingswood

For the last three years I have volunteered at East Bristol Food bank based in Kingswood. My role there is to meet and greet people and I fill out the form that logs how many people make up a particular family, what food they need and any allergies that we may have to take into consideration. I am also on hand if they need help with debt advice. I wear my dog collar as some people want prayer or spiritual support. When the coronavirus began to spread it was realised that four of the staff were over 70 and were no longer able to volunteer and two others decided they didn't want to put themselves at risk by volunteering during the pandemic. The next issue was the part of the building we were based in was too small, as staff we could not separate ourselves by two metres.

The Trussell Trust stated that we should shut down, due to the proximity of staff and clients. However, as volunteers we were determined to keep the food bank open at such a time when the needs of people in the community was so great. Thankfully, the church we are based in offered us a larger room where the day nursery usually met, which is now closed. One Saturday, with extra help, we moved all the food from one building to another, and at this time one of the volunteer's two sons who is in his twenties moved back home and began volunteering. So, we had a new home, some new staff, which meant seven regular staff members and we were all supplied with aprons, gloves and homemade face masks for us to wear.

In order to continue our work, we had to make sure that, when clients arrived, they were two metres away, so we put an extra table between us. We also had lots of people suddenly volunteering to help, which was wonderful, although too many people untrained would be chaos. In addition to this there was an immediate increase in donations, including ten crates of food from the manager of the Iceland store in Kingswood. Initially there were not many people walking in through the door, but we were regularly packing and sending out 25 food parcels each week. One large family would receive up to five boxes of food and toiletries. Thankfully, they did not have to be delivered by us, as Kingswood Community Transport stepped in and offered to take the parcels to people's homes.

As time went on, we started to receive deliveries from Tesco, which was brought to us by British Gas. Local people have also been so generous to the extent that we currently have more donations from the public than the people walking in looking for our assistance need. As churches were our main source of donations, we were concerned that we would not have enough food, but it transpired that we had no need to worry as so many people still donated food. In addition to this we are also receiving gifts of money on a regular basis, which is very helpful. As the food donations arrive, everything is weighed, and the new policy is that all food must be quarantined for 72 hours before it can go on the shelves.

Before Covid-19 we had on average 15 clients each week, but this number has jumped to 25-30 and so we needed to volunteer for a second morning each week. This is usually Friday or Saturday, so that we have time to make up food parcels for Monday. I feel that, as a food bank, we have adapted quite well to the challenges of meeting the great needs of people during this pandemic. Even though we have had to remain two metres apart, we have grown closer as volunteers and have become a well-oiled machine, helping and supporting one another, as we offer help to our local community. Our main worry now is that we have so much food that when the children of the day nursery come back and we return to the smaller premises, we won't be able to fit all the food back in. Fortunately, the Bristol Trussell Trust has a large warehouse where our extra food can be stored.

I would like to end this piece by saying that volunteering at the Food Bank during lockdown is not quite as selfless as it at first would appear. It has helped me to stay sane and has allowed me to feel useful and valued during these very strange times.

patsy holdsworthSr Patsy Holdsworth
Minister of Brockwier, Kingswood and Tytherton Congregations

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