I've been stockpiling food… so I can donate it to food banks
I’ve gone to Costco three times in the last week, and each time I’ve had disapproving looks.
I think my fellow shoppers assumed I was stockpiling for myself as I stacked 48 tins of custard and chickpeas, 66 packets of biscuits and 12 litres of UHT milk into my trolley.
I understand the confusion but I’ve actually been using charitable donations to buy food and toiletries for food banks around my local area in Leeds.
The first time I was aware of coronavirus having an impact was several weeks ago, through some of my clients at the performance marketing agency where I work. They import products from China and found that delivery times were getting longer because Chinese transport was affected, and some products had stopped being supplied altogether.
It wasn’t until a colleague showed me an article from The Trussell Trust, reporting that food banks in the UK are likely to be badly hit, that I got some idea of how massive the coronavirus outbreak was going to be – especially for anyone who is elderly or at risk. I feared that the vulnerable amongst us were going to be left behind.
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It struck me that raising money and using the funds to bulk buy goods for food banks was the most natural, direct and the easiest way of doing something that would actually help, so I set up a fundraising page and circulated it around my office.
To be honest, I was really happy when we hit £40 – so when we managed to raise £70, I was thrilled. I headed off to Costco to buy the first load of food and by the time I got to Normanton’s Well Project food bank to deliver it, the fund had reached £100. I thought, ‘wow’, knowing that the money would go to a good cause.
I then put the link out on my social media channels and in just over a day, the money crept up to over £600. It was unbelievable. Donations came from everywhere, from friends and family to strangers in my online networks who saw my posts. Most people donated small amounts, £5 and £10, but one generous donor gave £100, which blew me away.
My band, Ey Up Maiden, decided to match the total so in all we’ve raised £1,300, with every penny going on items the food banks need.
Before each shopping trip I rang ahead to find out what they were short of and it wasn’t what you might think – they were mostly asking for toiletries: soap, deodorant and feminine hygiene products. The assumption is that they need bags of pasta so that’s what everyone brings, but then they are overwhelmed with it.
I’ve split the food bank runs with our band’s drummer who loaded up his van. In all, we’ve been able to help five food banks near us, though there are still many more around the country that are in desperate need.
It hasn’t all been straightforward. Costco isn’t open for long and food banks around us tend to only be open for a few hours one day a week, so I’ve had to do this all during the day, when I should be working. Fortunately my company, Journey Further, has been incredibly cool about it, for which I am really grateful.
Transparency has been really important, too. People have trusted me with their donations, so I’ve taken photos of me buying goods and dropping them off, and provided receipts at every stage. Unfortunately, I can imagine how people’s generosity could be abused, with people taking the money and not buying anything.
The response from the staff at the food banks has been worth everything, though. They’ve been so pleased with what I’ve been able to donate, and it does feel good to help. Food banks struggle as it is, and they will again once the worst of the coronavirus is over, so I can only hope this momentum is something we keep going into the future.
I’ve been called a ‘hero’ but I get really embarrassed by that. I can drive and I know how to use the internet – those are resources most people have and I haven’t done anything that others couldn’t. I’m not concerned for my own health; I’m relatively young and fit so I wasn’t at risk on shopping trips where I only really interacted with the cashier.
I’m more concerned about the volunteers who work at the food banks; they are amazing, always there, despite the real risk posed by coming into contact with so many people.
I’ll keep going until all the money has been spent – the heightened restrictions mean I can’t make any more physical trips so I am planning on donating the final £170 directly to a food bank. However, it’s been amazing to have strangers replying to my social media saying they are going to do the same.
I’ve been trying to talk directly to supermarket distributors to see if they can add extra items to their deliveries, which I can pay for and pick up immediately but I’ve heard nothing yet. Supermarkets are apparently starting to organise donations directly to food banks but that’s taking time, too.
I think that’s why so much of the coronavirus response has been at individual and community level. Big companies just aren’t agile enough to respond to the crisis quickly or efficiently enough. Top-down funding from the government isn’t going to reach the people who need it most – and they need it now.
Donate to The Trussell Trust.
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