Foodbank chairman: people "didn't know where to turn" during Covid
- Credit: Dan Bennett
In our latest Dereham column, Mid-Norfolk foodbank chairman DAVE PEARSON reflects on a year like no other.
As I think back to the start of 2020, we were looking ahead to our “quiet” time of the year after the Christmas rush and the autumn harvest festivals. Our stock levels were adequate and you could say we were “ticking over” nicely.
What happened next no one could have predicted. Covid-19 came along and lockdown brought everything to a standstill – momentarily for us! As our referral agencies began to close, there was a lot of concern as to how we were going to help our customers. We very quickly had to rethink how we operated.
We already had the facility to issue electronic vouchers by phone or over the internet but hadn’t made much use of this. We learnt quickly this was a life saver for many.
Despite this, many of those needing our help didn’t know where to turn. As the contact number for the foodbank is my home number, my wife and I were taking numerous calls each day from people needing food and other help. Our routine at home became: answer phone in the morning to people self-isolating and wanting deliveries, people wanting to donate food and money and offers of volunteering, and then out in the afternoon delivering food boxes.
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We lost some of our long-standing volunteers who were also self-isolating but thankfully new volunteers were recruited to enable us to keep all three distribution centres in Dereham, Fakenham and Swaffham open for business.
Could there be any silver linings in the midst of the pandemic? A few. We were inundated with offers of food from supermarkets and the public. "Boris’s boxes", as they were known, yielded an abundance of Ready Brek that no one wanted and our stock levels rose to over 19 tonnes – a logistical nightmare, but we managed thanks to sterling work from our operations manager Michael Jones and support from the Independence Matters team. We are food-secure now for at least the next year.
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Despite initial nervousness about using electronic vouchers we now have a system that works – most of the time - and red paper vouchers have become something of a rarity.
Throughout all this, we could not have achieved anything without the teams of volunteers at Swaffham, Fakenham, Dereham and the warehouse, and we are pleased to see most have now returned to help.
Let us be confident that if we have another lockdown we are better prepared.
In summary, the overriding memory of 2020 during lockdown has been the overwhelming generosity of local people towards the foodbank. We are privileged to serve this community. It would be nice to think that at some point we won’t need the foodbank – and I can finally retire! – but until then we are here to help whoever and however we are needed.
The Mid-Norfolk Foodbank’s distribution centres are based at Dereham’s Wellspring Church; Swaffham Baptist Church; and Fakenham Salvation Army centre.
People wanting to use the foodbank can access the service through various agencies, including Citizens Advice and Breckland Council.
If you wish to donate, visit https://midnorfolk.foodbank.org.uk to find out what goods are currently most needed.