Sunday 26 March 2017

Nourish Community Foodbank, Where Every Tin is a Hug

L-R Lesley Darcy, Assistant Operations Manager. Dawn Stanford, Operations Manager
and Marianne MacDonald, Trustee

I've just spent the last few hours in a Big Yellow Self Storage unit and do you know what? I had the best time, I haven't laughed like I did in ages. This is no average storage unit, let me tell you. This is the home of the Nourish Community Foodbank where I've spent the morning in the company of three super passionate women who are each making a difference in their community.

'Every tin is a hug' is the wisdom imparted in me today from Marianne MacDonald, Trustee of the Nourish Community Foodbank. She told me this is how she explains her voluntary work to her daughter and she went on to say 'Nourish is so much more than just food, it is a helping hand, a squeeze, a hug and a feeling there are complete strangers who care'. Marianne talked with passion about how making donations to a food bank such as Nourish is conscious giving, people have made a choice to add extra shopping to their basket or to open their cupboard and see what they can donate, it is so much more involved than just putting loose change in a tin.

She is of course right and I see this first-hand as I also volunteer in my local foodbank in Hastings. Nourish is like no other food bank I've ever seen though, they operate from the Big Yellow Self Storage building and are gifted a 200 sq ft unit by them and have been for the last few years. Their team of volunteers meet there each week to weigh, sort and pack the food and the food parcels are then delivered straight to the door of the person in need, removing any obstacles such as transport or ill health from stopping them getting their much needed food, toiletries and personal items.

In the year ended April 2016 Nourish fed 3141 people, an increase of 34% on the previous year and they expect this to have risen again when this year finishes shortly. But it is not the 'benefits scroungers' that you often see mentioned in papers such as the Sun and Daily Mail using the food bank. Only 7% of the recipients are unemployed, most are low earning, hard working families who happen to live in a very expensive area and have hit a time of crisis.

Marianne was quick to pick up on this point stating 'we are the same as the people we support, but they have just hit a blip in the road and need a helping hand for a while' and this short-term, emergency help is key, as of course Nourish do not want to be sustaining individuals or families for the long-term. The goal is that they will all be on their feet again and be able to live a good day-to-day life without this kind of help long term.

Dawn Stanford, Operations Manager and the only paid member of staff on the team shared with me that they offer a maximum of twelve parcels of food in a 12 month period but it is great to see that 87% of their referred clients have had three parcels or under in a year and 65% received one parcel only. These figures are so reassuring and really do demonstrate that Nourish are able to meet their aim of meeting the needs of those in crisis and not enabling situations that hold them in a state of dependence on others.

Most of my morning was spent talking with Dawn and truth be told I could have spent hours more there. She is an amazing woman heading up the team on a day-to-day basis and she is one of those people who just knows everything and everyone within her field of work. She is a jack of all trades from dealing with the incoming referrals, to signposting help, to meeting donors, to packing bags and delivering parcels of food.

Having been in post from 2013 I asked her where her energy, passion and enthusiasm for the work she does comes from and she was able to share with me a tale of a difficult upbringing where her own mother didn't feed her and then being in foster care and knowing what it was like to live in poverty and survive the hard life. I think helping has become so ingrained in who Dawn is that she doesn't even consciously realise the tremendous work she personally is doing.

Tears came to my eyes as she told me the story of a young 16 year old girl who found her mother dead. The girl had to cut her mum down and call the authorities, who then had to remove her from the family home for her own safety and moved her into temporary shared accommodation. The case worker got straight in touch with Dawn to ask if Nourish could provide some food and within a couple of hours Dawn personally had dropped off the food to the girl.

Then she asked her what else she needed as Dawn might be able to work with other charities and agencies to help and the girl explained she had exams in a few weeks and needed some stationary. After an appeal to the Nourish volunteers the next package of food the girl received from them was stuffed full of all the tools she needed to help her exams go well but I think the cherry on the top was the diary that Dawn had got her.

Dawn spoke about a social worker who had given her a diary many years ago when she herself was a child living in care. She had told her to find one good thing every day and to write it in the diary, it might be as simple as liking your hairstyle but you had to find the good thing. Then when the tough days came you could look through and remember the good and know it would come again.

Dawn did the same for the girl and was rewarded with a text some time later saying something like "OMG, I can't believe it! I got all these good grades and check me out I made a cottage pie too". Dawn and I both stood their lost in our own thoughts for a moment and then I commented that you just never knew the impact you might have on a person. What doesn't seem like much to us can make a difference to them. The gift that social worker gave to Dawn all those years ago is still paying forward even now, isn't that amazing?

I could go on and on about the Nourish Community Foodbank, they are definitely a charity with a massive heart and it appears they are being really well run. They have some amazing donors like Big Yellow Self Storage, a high end kids boutique in Tunbridge Wells called the Children's Salon, many local business and even private donors helping to buy all recipients a full turkey dinner at Christmas time but they are also really helping themselves with fundraisers, collections and grants.

Of course the reason I was there last Friday was because they had secured a grant from comic Relief and they used this to buy a number of trolleys, which at first sight I thought was a bit odd but seeing them in action they are fabulous and I'm definitely going to recommend to my foodbank that we need some. Like a pushchair, they fold and open easily and are sturdy enough to take a number of bags of heavy shopping around the storage unit and out on delivery to the recipients houses.

If you are donating to the Nourish Community Foodbank I can assure you that they really are thankful for your donations and they take their responsibility seriously to make the best use of the produce or money you give. With charities like Nourish on your doorstep no-one need every be hungry again. 

Thanks Dawn, Marianne and Lesley for being so hospital, I had a great morning with you and look forward to seeing how the Nourish Community Foodbank grows and thrives in the years to come. Mich x

Some wonderful blogger friends of mine tirelessly work to raise money and awareness for Comic Relief, so if you'd like to donate head over to the Team Honk giving page.
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