It’s now been ten weeks since the lock down began. It’s been ten weeks of frustration, hard work and ten weeks of seeing the very best of our community heroes who have worked unceasingly without thought for themselves. We owe them a debt of gratitude which will be hard to repay. There are the NHS, care home staff, delivery drivers, bus drivers etc who are all going that extra mile! Without them I dread to think what would have happened!
West Bromwich Community church which is the operational base for the West Bromwich Food Bank was closed in March as were all other churches and places of worship. We are allowed to use it for the food bank. As we look around the church as we work, we come to realise that it does not resemble a place of worship, with the chairs set out ready to receive its congregation each Sunday! It now resembles a food warehouse, with food everywhere! We have been blown away at times to see the generosity of those who have donated much needed supplies. We think often of the local businesses who although forced to close have donated food stocks at great cost to themselves. They are too many to mention here but our food bank team really do appreciated each and every donation.
I think especially of the anonymous lady who would normally donate via her church. Because she could not do that, she sent us a cheque for £100 so that we could use it for food. The West Bromwich Rotary club and Hateley Heath & Stone Cross Big Local have also donated finance, specifically to purchase food. We also received a grant of £500 from the Tesco Covid Response Fund (which we have already spent!). The generosity displayed by so many has been truly awesome. We have also built on our strong partnership with Sandwell Council who have been literally magnificent during the ongoing crisis.
At this point, I would like to say a big thank you and also pay tribute to our amazing volunteer team at the food bank. Under guidance given by our church headquarters we are only allowed to have five people in the church at any one time (socially distanced of course!). Our team have willingly given of their time to make sure that the most vulnerable in our community are supported. They have unloaded, sorted and packed mountains of food. It has been hard work but they have done it all with a smile on their faces! We also operate a delivery system where clients are self isolating and cannot leave their homes. Our volunteer drivers have discovered parts of Sandwell they never knew existed. It is very true to say that without these volunteers we would struggle to maintain our service. I must also thank those volunteers who prior to the outbreak had no connection with the church or food bank, but have contacted us to offer their services when necessary. The whole ten weeks lock down has been a triumphant exercise in good will, hard work and a determination to support as many people as we can.
As we begin to emerge slowly from the lock down we are spending time thinking of what will happen in the future. We have no idea at the present as to what will happen and that makes any strategic planning very very difficult. At the moment we have to take things on a day to day basis. We never know even in normal times what will happen at the food bank, how many we will support and whether we will have enough food to feed everyone who comes knocking at our door. Pre lock down, we used to run a drop in centre, where anyone could come in, have light refreshments and chat to each other and our volunteers. It was a vital resource and one which |I know is greatly missed. We want to commence that again as soon as we can, but as social distancing measures will I think, be with us for some time, it’s very difficult to plan for.
Our team of volunteers promise you that we will do everything we can to continue the vital support service we offer. We are not just here for the lock down!
Stay safe, and if I am allowed to say it, God bless you all!
One of the major issues in running a support service like a food bank is the constant worry that your precious stock of food will run out. You therefore spend much time in thinking how to keep the cupboard well stocked!
Despite the excellent support we receive from individuals, churches, local businesses and Sandwell Council there is still that thought at the back of your mind as to how long your stocks will last. We are seeing an increase in demand at West Bromwich for the food bank which makes the question of sustainability even more pressing.
Bearing this in mind, it’s always great when someone offers to help without being asked! Our local MP Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) has contacted us recently offering to lead a food collection at a local supermarket. So it is that we can now announce that on Saturday 22nd June Mr Watson and his Parliamentary colleague Liam Byrne MP (Birmingham Hodge Hill) will be leading the quest at Tesco New Square, West Bromwich. They will be there from 10.00-12.00 encouraging shoppers to support the West Brom Food Bank, with the help of local volunteers.
Why not pop along, say hello and donate to a cause that is needed more than ever. The food bank supports some of the most vulnerable in the local community and your generosity will certainly help to make a difference.
The food bank is open each Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 12.00-3.00pm., at the same time the food bank is open we run a drop in centre where anyone can ‘drop in’, have light refreshments and take time to relax with no pressure! We are able to signpost visitors to various agencies who can offer the specialist support that may be needed.
As 2018 draws to a close I find myself, coffee in hand, thinking of the events that defined the West Bromwich Food Bank during that period. We had the usual mix of misery and disappointment, occasionally interspersed with moments of humour. Our clients are the reason we do what we do. Their lives touch ours and often leaves us with feelings of anger that they are in the situation they are. It is a well-worn cliché, but in one of the world’s richest economies it is, frankly disgusting that so many people are living in poverty and have no idea where their next meal is coming from.
We have sat chatting to our clients and very often the choice is to eat or heat their home. We are forever being asked for financial support by our clients, so that they can top up their gas/electric credit. It is heartrending for us when we have to say no and signpost them to another agency that has the right connections and may be able to support them.
We work with a fantastic agency Black Country Womens Aid who actively support victims of domestic abuse and who will many times over the year ask for our support as they move victims and very often their young children to a place of safety.
Officialdom has featured heavily in the year. We have lost count of the number of times that clients are desperate because of government policy especially in relation to Universal Credit (UC). We now have a special category ‘universal credit delay’ to reflect in our statistics how people are caught in the UC trap. We fully expect this category to be well used in the coming year. When a person moves on to UC it can take up to five weeks but so often takes longer. This has the potential of placing a client in a position where they are in debt. The country desperately needs an overhaul of UC but presently, the government appear to be ignoring the issue.
During the year we had to close our drop in centre temporarily due to anti-social behaviour by a small minority of our visitors which could have put other visitors and our volunteers at risk. We hope to reopen this valuable resource early in the New Year.
Some clients bring their children with them, and even after eleven years of the food bank it still tugs at our heart strings to see their faces light up when they see the food come out.
As I said earlier, we do have moments of humour. I am reminded of the guy who came in for the first time. We had a brief chat, we gave him his food and he was amazed at what we gave him. He said that he wanted to give something back when he could. As I said to him, there’s no need, he said I am going to win the lottery next Friday and I will bring in one million pounds! Let’s see what happens I replied. He then said, I did it last week and never got one number right! (Oh well, easy come easy go!)
As we enter 2019, there is one thing I am sure of. We will see more misery, anger and bad decision making. Over the years I have stated that it is my intention to close the food bank because it will not be needed. I am, however, pragmatic and realise that, (barring a large miracle) it will not happen in 2019!
The team and I have been at times, totally gobsmacked by the generosity of West Bromwich residents, churches and local businesses. The donations have been regular and at times totally unexpected! During the run up to Christmas due to the support of our friends at the West Bromwich Town Bid the appeal for donations went town wide, with three drop off points around the town. This resulted in a healthy amount of food, plus donations of toys and gifts which were passed on to Black Country Womens Aid for distribution.
We reopen the food bank on Wednesday 2nd January 2019 following our Christmas break, and expect to hit the ground running as we begin a new season of support and encouragement.
My personal wish list for the food bank for 2019 is:
- Less misery and despair for those forced to use a food bank
- More compassion from our government in their dealings with those in crisis
- To be able to scale down our operations or to close altogether as we are no longer needed
These wishes are achievable, it only needs commitment and compassion from those responsible for government policy and the same compassion and commitment from those responsible for implementing the policy.
As we enter 2019, I would like to express my appreciation of our partner agencies and the great work they do in supporting the most vulnerable in our community. May your funding be regular and guaranteed and may you continue to make a difference in the lives of so many.
And finally, (for now) a word or two of thanks to the team of volunteers who ensure that the food bank is able to maintain its work. Thank you, we could not do what we do without you. You are all helping to make a difference, rest assured, you are all valued and appreciated.
For statistical purposes the food bank keeps a record of usage. For this purpose we use the year beginning April 1 to March 31. This year has just ended and the totals are in! It’s another year of the same old same old.
During the period in question we have fed a total of 3616 people, (2451 adults and 1165 children under the age of 16). In terms of performance we have succeeded in our stated aim of supporting our local community and the wider area of Sandwell! We have achieved this thanks to the generosity of individuals, churches, local business and Sandwell Council who, over the year, have all supported the work we do. West Bromwich Community Church has, as always, supported us by allowing the church to be open three afternoons per week and to be used as a drop in centre.
We received 1799 referrals from partner agencies and each referral stated the main reason for needing support. Although March 2018 was a low month in terms of referrals/numbers fed the reasons were:
- 3 x benefit changes
- 16 x benefit delays
- 5 x benefit sanctions
- 4 x debt
- 2 x domestic abuse
- 21 x DWP referrals (The job centre do not give a specific reason for referring clients but they are all to do with benefit issues)
- 27 x financial hardship
- 5 x homeless
- 20 x low income
- 11 x nil income
- 3 x other (This category is used when the reasons given do not fit a specific reason)
- 15 x unemployed
- 2 x universal credit delays (This category was introduced as universal credit is beginning to affect residents of Sandwell, although it is not due to be rolled out fully until November 2018)
So, in these figures, we have another year of misery and despair. 3616 people who would have gone hungry. 3616 people who, if you sat down and really talked to them you would discover many underlying issues which led to the lack of finance. Then you come to the question of what do your clients deal with first, the food issue, the health issue? It’s not just an issue of people being hungry and unable to afford food.
3616 people going hungry in Sandwell and that’s just the ones we see at our food bank, and we are not the busiest. There are at least four other food banks in Sandwell! Replicate those figures across the country at the estimated 800+ food banks and you are suddenly into big figures running into the hundreds of thousands. We are now into the 21st century, in one of the richest countries in the world and we still have not eradicated poverty and its root causes. It’s not good enough!
It was a real pleasure yesterday to welcome young volunteers from the Media Club (part of the Lyng Community Association – LCA) to work in our food bank. From the time they came they worked hard, weighing, sorting, stacking and packing food parcels. During the afternoon, they helped to support 37 residents in the local community who were in crisis and could not afford to feed themselves or their families.
They were a credit to the Media Club and Rachel Jennings, Development Worker at the LCA. We are looking forward to seeing them again on Friday when they return for another shift!