Letter of the Week: 'Food bank plays such a key role in community'

Present demand on Haslemere Foodbank is four or five times greater than ‘normal’ ()

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MAY I express the great gratitude of the volunteers who run the Haslemere food bank for the considerable surge in donations for our work since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and the surge in demand for food support which that has brought.

It has been heartwarming to see the faithfulness, thoughtfulness and generosity of the number supporters who have maintained our work over the seven years of our existence and to be aware of the many new supporters in the community who are helping us to continue through this crisis.

Although there was some surprise, when the food bank was inaugurated, that such a thing was needed in Haslemere, from day one there has been a steady stream of people referred to us for help.

It has been gratifying to see the system set up in the beginning has been sufficiently robust to deal with the present demand, which is four or five times greater than ‘normal’.

With the closure of churches, we have lost some of our collection points, but people have been making greater use of the boxes at Tesco and Waitrose and the “outliers” in Chiddingfold and Fernhurst. We remain grateful to all those involved in arranging all this.

We continue to operate through a referral system. We know food poverty is not a standalone issue and is a symptom of other, deeper problems. Our system seeks to ensure people have access to the support they need in other areas of their lives. With the lockdown, we have lost the opportunity to offer hospitality and conversation over coffee, which it will be good to resume when we are free to do so.

While we give out information about other sources of help, the food bank in its present state of busy-ness is not an easy place for people to share. People are referred through the Citizens Advice Bureau, the health centre, 3 Counties Money Advice, children’s schools, churches and various borough and town agencies.

With the pandemic and the extra donations, we have expanded what we are able to offer considerably. Though we usually deal only with ‘dry’ goods, we now have some fresh fruit and vegetables (and have had an amazing fridge donated), frozen ready meals (donated by COOK), feminine hygiene, pet food, books (donated by Haslemere Book Shop), craft resources, etc, donated by a range of thoughtful donors.

The food bank has also had requests from people wishing to volunteer. We regret physical distancing rules means that, in our restricted space, we have not been able to accept all of these.

We have accepted a few who have begun to deliver food packs to people unable to come to the food bank, another new development we have been able to offer, with thanks to those who make this possible.

People will be aware of many other supportive initiatives which have arisen in response to the pandemic. These include Haslemere Help, which has set up its own pop-up community store in Haslemere Hall, run on different principles to the food bank but extending the range of support on offer to those in need.

Unfortunately, there has been some confusion in the town about the role of the two projects. At the moment, donations put on the trolleys which appear around on a Wednesday morning go to the community store. While it is getting into its stride, it has shared a few donated items with the food bank.

We are hoping for a closer working relationship as it develops. Meanwhile, the food bank is able to rely on its well-established collection points.

It gives me no pleasure at all to recall the food bank has been here for seven years. We should not need to have one at all.

Our hopes that the years of austerity would give way to better times for all have been dashed by Covid-19, so it looks like the food bank will need to be here for quite a while yet. As we say ‘thank you’ for all the support received to date, we also ask people continue to support the work the food bank does into a somewhat uncertain future.

* By David Rice,

Chair of the management group, Haslemere food bank

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