Photograph: Katharine Davies

Photograph: Katharine Davies

SHERBORNE FOOD BANK

Jo Denbury, Features Writer  

Here’s a fact: this Christmas, over 200,000* children in the UK will rely on a food parcel for a decent meal.

Here’s another: this year in Sherborne and its locality, approximately 700 food parcels have been delivered to households in need.  The Sherborne Food Bank was set up five years ago to feed the hungry of this town and the surrounding communities. Now a registered charity, it is run by a committed team of volunteers and trustees chaired by Rev Jono Tregale, vicar at St Paul’s Church.

According to a recent survey by the University of Oxford* there is a strong link between increased benefit sanctions and higher food bank use. Ordinary people find themselves in need of a food bank for a number of reasons.  These range from redundancy or bereavement to welfare problems, or receiving an unexpected bill on a low income.  The fact is, they are helped because they are hungry.  “The food bank gave me faith that there are people who understand and who you can trust,” says Marcella, 32. A former veterinary nurse, Marcella suffered a chronic spinal condition. Unfortunately her health deteriorated and she required an operation. Marcella explains, “Even on a budget, sometimes it’s very difficult to get by. With rents and utilities being so high, surviving the month is often the best I can manage. But surely people should not just survive.” >Marcella never dreamed of having to use a food bank, but when her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was switched to Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA), the payment that she so desperately relied on was delayed and she found herself in need of help. “I felt ashamed at not being able to support myself, but the people at the food bank took the pressure off. They made me feel comfortable and reassured.”

Marcella was helped by the Trussell Trust, another food bank organisation. The difference between the Trussell Trust and the Sherborne Food Bank is that the latter actually delivers the food parcels. This ensures that those in outlying rural communities, who may lack transport or a local bus network – which would prevent them from attending a food bank – are not left in need.  This kind of operation requires careful management and efficient procedures. One new volunteer, Michael, spent 37 years in the Royal Navy before retiring and has been involved in a number of causes in the town. Since the summer, he and his wife have joined other volunteers in implementing further organisational processes, much needed in the face of the food bank’s growing demand.  There are three main collection points: Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and the basket at the back of Sherborne Abbey church. Once a week a team of volunteers will collect the donations and take them to a local sorting point (a repurposed village hall). Here another team congregates and, over a quiet cup of tea, sorts the food and essential items by date and type. They are then relieved by the afternoon shift, who bag up the deliveries.

In Sherborne there are four types of parcels provided:a single person’s, an adult couple, a standard family, and a large family.

The approximate monetary value of these parcels is £15, £25, £40 and £50 respectively. But because the food bank is reliant on donations, there are often short-falls of specific items which can vary from week by week – and the charity needs funds to buy these items directly. This is where cash donations to the charity become a vital part of the system.

Last year, over 100 local pupils from Sherborne Girls and The Gryphon School took part in a successful carolsinging fundraiser at Waterloo station, in association with South West Trains. It raised over £3,500, which was shared between Waterloo and Sherborne food banks.  With the food parcels packed and ready, a team of volunteer drivers then arrives to collect and distribute.  The Sherborne Food Bank provides enough emergency food for a week at a time delivered according to need.  It operates over a wide area that stretches from Bishop’s Caundle to Henstridge, Charlton Horethorne to Bradford Abbas, as well as the town itself. Many of the recipients live in rural isolation – drivers have evendelivered to homeless people living in vehicles on lay-bys.  No one wants to be reliant on a food bank. Being hungry is the symptom of a situation – and that situation might be incredibly complicated. Almost all recipients are referred to the Sherborne Food Bank via agencies and organisations, such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Home Start, Magna Housing Group, local GPs, schools, Tinney’s Lane Children’s Centre, The Rendezvous and other frontline care professionals and volunteers.  So how has this burgeoning need come about? The answer is, of course, multi-layered. Most people will feel it is the breakdown in the administrative social care systems, causing delays and leaving people without.  Anyone who has seen Ken Loach’s recent Palme d’Orwinning film I, Daniel Blake will appreciate that things can go from bad to hopeless very quickly. According to Debbie Abrahams, who was the shadow secretary of state for work and pensions until June 2016, “It is clear that delays in benefits payments and changes to eligibility are a major cause behind [the] increase [in people requiring food banks].”

But, setting politics aside, here is one last fact: £5 can feed somebody for several days. For the cost of a coffee and a bun you can make a very real difference to someone’s life, here in Sherborne, today. As Marcella says, “We need to stop judging and try instead to listen.  Allow people to tell us how they have arrived in their situation and ask how we can help them out of it.” In a shifting society and precarious economy, where any of our circumstances could change without warning – this surely, Christmas or not, is a time to demonstrate how bonded a community we are.

How you can help

Collection points can be found at Waitrose and Sainsbury’s in Sherborne and at the back of Sherborne Abbey. The food bank is particularly keen to receive long-lasting protein or meat products such as tinned pies, as well as funds to make up stock shortfalls and to purchase baby products. To offer your services as a volunteer, or to donate, please contact help@sherbornefoodbank.org or visit sherbornefoodbank.org. If you know of anyone in need of help from the food bank please encourage them to get in touch with one of the agencies listed in the article and a referral can be made on their behalf.

With thanks to Liz Burt and the pupils of Thornford Primary School.

*Information provided by trusselltrust.org