Word from the front line: Haslemere Food Bank

Interview with: David Rice, manager of the Haslemere Food Bank in Surrey. 

“Despite this being a fairly well-off community, there has always been a steady trickle of people desperate for food support” says David. Throughout 2019, the Food Bank rarely issued more than five emergency food parcels each week, however when the lockdown was imposed this suddenly increased to between 20 and 28 parcels a week. “Most of these were for families, referred to us by school link services” David says. Thankfully, the surrounding community responded in kind with a surge in donations of both money and food items. “Some of our volunteers used social media to put out requests for specific items that we were short of, which helped ensure we didn’t run out of anything” says David. The Food Bank were also able to negotiate with the local Waitrose supermarket to bypass the restrictions on purchasing items when stock allowed this. With the additional funds, the project started supplying items of fresh food in the emergency parcels, besides introducing home deliveries for those unable to leave their homes. “We had a lot of offers of help from new volunteers, but there were only so many we could take on without compromising social distancing, so using that capacity to run deliveries seemed the best thing to do” says David.

As long as their supplies match the demand, David is confident the Food Bank will continue to feed everyone who needs it. But one thing that frustrates him is when this system is questioned by well-meaning yet inexperienced outsiders. “It seems everybody has become an expert now in how to run food banks” he says. “I spend a lot of time dealing with council representatives who seem determined to think we can’t cope. That support should be directed elsewhere, including the Food Banks which had run out of items and needed help”. Nevertheless, David worries that the wider causes behind the increased usage are not being addressed. “When people struggle to get enough food, it is usually a symptom of wider issues” he says. “Before the lockdown, we would sit down with people and chat with them over a cup of tea or coffee. We would find out what long-term support they needed and direct them to the appropriate organisations. That’s not possible now, but the damage this pandemic has caused to people’s jobs and incomes will take a long time to recover from, so more and more people will need that holistic support”.

Interviewed by: Caroline Wood


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