Walton & Hersham Foodbank – A Volunteer’s View
During the run up to the General Election, foodbanks were rarely off the political agenda and their existence has been firmly planted in our psyche. But where are these banks and who provides and manages their edible currency? In Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, there’s a Trussell Trust foodbank organised and run by volunteers who provide food generously donated by the local community and businesses. As one of those volunteers, I’ve been privileged to meet some inspiring co-workers and clients whose lives have been enriched by a helping hand at a time of crisis.
A few years ago, Sheila & Patrick Samuels of the Walton Parish recognised a need for emergency food supplies for people living in the local area and set up a foodbank at St John’s Church in Walton-on-Thames. The foodbank grew with the involvement of Walton Charity & then St Peter’s Church, Hersham and in 2012 the group approached the Trussell Trust (the UK’s biggest foodbank charity with over 400 partnerships with churches and communities). After a year of hard work the partners were granted official Trussell Trust status and the Walton & Hersham Foodbank was launched. Bespoke, three-day food parcels are now available from all venues on specific days and times during the week.
Now managed by Jess Balding, this foodbank remains in high demand: “Since we opened in May 2013, we have fed 2504 people. Although 43% of our clients are single people, 1051 of our recipients were children under 16,” said Jess.
It was the thought of children and vulnerable adults going hungry that prompted a food-lover like me to volunteer a little time to help each month. Having watched a documentary about the Trussell Trust on television, I looked online for a local foodbank and emailed the co-ordinator at St John’s Church. I was then invited to attend a brief training session with key organisers who match helpers to voluntary positions which range from attending supermarket drives, to checking and sorting supplies at a local warehouse, to working with clients at one of the three sites. Volunteers are invited to shadow seasoned helpers before being asked to meet clients to discover their emergency food requirements and possibly lend a sympathetic ear fuelled by tea and biscuits. We also try to alleviate their crisis by signposting them on to further help.
Clients are anyone who is struggling to get by on low income – people in work or on benefits. Those in food crisis are given vouchers by official bodies such as social services, GPs and the Citizens Advice Bureau. Few recipients want to rely on hand-outs and most only use our facilities as a last resort. I recall meeting one young mother who arrived at the Foodbank five minutes before closure; she had spent the morning at home staring into empty cupboards wondering how she would feed her children that weekend. She finally grasped the courage to use the red voucher she’d been given by the CAB, explaining that she had felt ashamed and embarrassed to visit us. We were able to reassure her that unfortunately she was not unique in her predicament and provided simple items like pasta, orange juice and milk and ‘luxuries’ including sponge puddings and custard which brought tears of gratitude to her eyes and no doubt smiles to young faces when they returned from school.
Meeting new clients never fails to remind me that we are all vulnerable to health, relationship and financial worries and may one day need emergency food assistance ourselves. Welfare cuts and high housing costs are just two factors likely to increase foodbank demand, so the need for more volunteers has never been greater.
Note from The Hersham Hub
There are 2 local collection points for the Walton & Hersham Foodbank donations:
Waitrose, Hersham Green Shopping Centre, Hersham, KT12 4HL
Piglets Playcentre, Burhill Road, Hersham, KT12 4BJ
Find out How a Foodbank Works here
If you would like to look into volunteering opportunities with the Walton & Hersham Foodbank you can find out more here