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Cannock and District Foodbank: Doing what they can

18 June 2013

Cannock Foodbank warehouse

David Spencer shows us around the central warehouse for Cannock and District Foodbank. Outside, you’d not give it a second glance – a brick and corrugated shed in the grounds behind the caravan storage business that David and his wife run outside Cannock – but inside, it’s a tardis, with shelves neatly ordered with colour coded labels by expiry dates, and containing a staggering 3.5 tonnes of food.

In its first year of operation, the foodbank has fed around 1,100 people, David tells us, through a network of 12 distribution centres, running as far away as Lichfield. The distribution centres are kept purposely small and local, so it’s not intimidating or difficult for people to visit them.

Food comes in through regular donations and special appeals with local charities, churches and businesses. One effective tactic is for volunteers to spend a day at a supermarket, asking people to buy one extra item for the foodbank – it’s not unusual for half the people they talk to to do this. They look for non-perishable items, and everything is strictly weighed in and out on a computerised system, and packaged for distribution according to nutrition guidelines from the umbrella organisation for Foodbanks, the Trussell Trust. Special needs are catered for with a limited supply of non-food items, and baby food and supplies are stocked to help young families in difficulty.

Cannock foodbank

The foodbank now has 80 volunteers, which has let it grow into a very effective organisation, with people giving generously of their own time in administration, driving, or in maintaining the distribution points.

And there’s no shortage of work to be done. As more and more people hear about the foodbank, the demand on its services grows. Plus the nature of the need is changing too. The majority of their users are now people waiting for delayed benefits payments. When they start to get welfare support, there’s a gap until the first payments come through. With crisis loans withdrawn, the foodbank’s support is now critical to helping people over the first days or weeks. David fears this trend is only going to increase with the move to monthly payments, and the likely confusion around the introduction of Universal Credit.

All this organisation comes at a cost though, with the foodbank costing around £22,000 a year to run, despite the fact that everyone gives their time for free. David would like to see it on a more secure footing, and acknowledges that asking for donations of food is much easier than donations of cash to cover costs. Ideally the Foodbank would own its own van, rather than renting, and be able to pay a driver, so distribution could happen more regularly, especially on longer runs that it’s hard to get volunteer time for.

Volunteers at Bourne Methodist Church

At Bourne Methodist Church, the volunteers are busy making up an emergency food pack for a family who have just come in. They items are placed in regular shopping bags, so people aren’t self-conscious about taking them home. Demand fluctuates. It has been high in recent days, and some key items are running low ahead of the next delivery to the storecupboard that they keep in the small church office. The guidelines suggest one can of fish and one meat, but they’ve run out of meat, and need to improvise with extra fish instead.

The volunteers running the Foodbank have achieved remarkable things in a very short space of time, but as David tells us, they’re painfully aware that the Foodbank is not the answer. David says that’s one for the politicians to work out, but change is definitely needed so that we don’t need to have Foodbanks as a last line of support. As another volunteer at Bourne Church tells us, the need out there is immense and growing, but “you have to do what you can”.

17 June - 29 June


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