Food bank busier than ever

Food bank busier than ever

By Gareth Dennison | 10/06/2021

Food bank busier than ever


A TROLLEY at Rotherham Foodbank provides perhaps the best indication of just how busy the charity has been during the pandemic.

It has needed three new wheels over the last 12 months — because of the sheer weight of donations going through the charity’s Grove Road base.

The number of vouchers redeemed for food at the foodbank is slightly down on the record numbers from 2019.

But April being the busiest month of 2021 has surprised staff and volunteers. Usually January is the most hectic during the first half of a year.

A voucher referral system is used by the foodbank, with families nearing crisis point issued paperwork from partner agencies like Citizens Advice and children’s centres.

The voucher figure was 154 in January — typically a high month because of the effects of Christmas — but this was topped with 165 in April.

Thankfully, the amount of stock has remained healthy thanks to supporters. Tesco and the Rotary Club handed over weekly half a ton of food each for much of lockdown.

“When Covid hit, we got a lot of extra stock in, and this was at a time when certain agencies weren’t open and others were working from home,” said foodbank manager Steve Prosser.

“A number of independent foodbanks were set up, so the load was shared more widely between us all.

“The big focus in the early part of the pandemic was on the health crisis, and it seemed that everyone in the community stepped up.

“Now we’ve moved on to focusing more on the economic crisis. People have had their jabs, but there is a big group of people who won’t have the same jobs to go back to, especially when furlough comes to an end.

“There will be a group of people dropping into this system and we need to be absolutely ready for that.”

The model has switched to delivery since spring 2020 as no visitors were allowed in the foodbank’s Hope Church base.

Signposting to other support — like Samaritans or Shiloh, for example — has been fairly successful through leaflets shipped with the food packages.

But having agencies in the same room — with informal chats over cuppas — is still preferable, and Rotherham Foodbank is keen to resume this service in the coming weeks once risk assessments are completed.

Emma Harris has been brought into the office as session co-ordinator and administrator, allowing Steve a more strategic role as support continues to widen from simply providing food.

Emma, who got involved through the church, said: “I really love it. “It’s a nice environment, which always helps to make any job more manageable and enjoyable. The pandemic has allowed us to revamp the office and how we do things.”

More than half of the food comes from individuals and organisations donating directly. Another third is from the supermarkets.

A tiny amount — about 1.3 per cent — is actually bought from the Foodbank coffers because of this strong backing.

Food support has gradually widened to now include toiletries, clothes and pet food. A new organisation to be involved is RotherFed, which will help people with budget management.

And a noticeable change over the past year has been the increased demand from areas north of the town centre, such as Parkgate and Rawmarsh.

Steve said: “I’ve always said the ambition for the foodbank is for it to close. But every year, we seem to be getting further and further from that.”