Written by Becky Howitt, volunteer for the One Can Trust.
One Can Trust is a local foodbank that was established in 2011 in a small cupboard in St Andrew’s Church, High Wycombe. During this time, the church was broken into twice but all that was stolen was the food, bringing to light the desperate measures that people in the local community were taking whilst struggling to feed their families during times of crisis. Since then, the food poverty crisis has continued to grow, and the foodbank now runs out of a warehouse on Duke Street, High Wycombe to cope with the extra demand. It not only serves High Wycombe but also other communities in South Bucks, spanning from Princes Risborough to Denham, and since its creation 9 years ago it has provided food parcels to feed over 30,000 local adults and children.
The foodbank initiatives are driven from the bottom-up, guided and delivered by the local community it serves and their strength in supporting one another. The foodbank has always been a vital lifeline to people in our local community, but the COVID-19 pandemic has only further emphasised its necessity as demand for its services has more than doubled. Having volunteered at the foodbank for over a year and a half, I have seen first-hand the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on local families, and how the foodbank has had to adapt to the unfolding crisis.
The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the foodbank was providing food for fewer than 200 people a week. This dramatically increased during lockdown, peaking at 626 people, including 301 children in the week beginning May 20th. Although demand has fallen slightly during June, we are still supporting around 400 people a week – double the figures usually expected for this time of year. These alarming statistics may help to illustrate the urgency of the situation, but seeing the ever-growing list of names as a volunteer makes the dire situation even more tangible because behind every number is a person or a family desperately in need.
However, it is equally very rewarding to be able to make a difference as a volunteer. Over 100 front line agencies, e.g. Social Services, Wycombe Women’s Aid, Citizens Advice Bureau, refer people to the foodbank for food aid. It is then my role (alongside many other volunteers) to ‘pick and pack’ parcels tailored to the size of the household, whilst also considering dietary requirements, etc. Usually these would be collected by clients from a series of different pick-up centres, but in light of the pandemic we are now reliant on an army of delivery drivers who drop-off parcels directly to people’s homes.
Changing the delivery/pick-up service is not the only operational change that has had to be made during the pandemic. One of the key values of One Can Trust is that it is ‘run by the people of South Bucks, for the people of South Bucks’. Indeed, an impressive 120 volunteers help regularly at the foodbank in various different capacities, however many of them are over 70 and hence had to self-isolate during lockdown. However, many new volunteers offered their services to help meet the increased demand we were facing. One of these was my best friend, Meg, which was lovely as we were able to see each other weekly in a socially-distanced manner to pack food parcels.
A lovely and very powerful quote from the One Can Trust values is:
‘In humbling ourselves to a common purpose we can each contribute to something far beyond the reach of any one of us, strengthened by our collective values and supporting one another as we need it.’
The strength of the community is not only seen in the fact that in times of crisis many new volunteers are willing to give up their time, and also in that many others help by donate food and/or money. Each year an amazing £200,000 worth of food is collected by One Can Trust!
However, the way in which people make donations has also had to change as a result of lockdown. Usually One Can Trust are reliant on donation points at supermarkets, places of worship, schools, community groups and local businesses, etc, but with many of these being closed and with people being encouraged to shop in person as infrequently as possible, receiving enough donations in this way became near impossible. Therefore, the ‘Street Heroes’ campaign was launched. Local residents were asked if they could set up donation points outside their homes and then drop this food off to the warehouse.
There are now over 100 street heroes who are providing a staggering 90% of the food we distribute each week. I am acting as a street hero and to date my neighbours have collectively donated 677 items of food and toiletries which I have worked out will have made food parcels for roughly 17 families. My village have also been busy sewing facemasks with donations going to the One Can Trust and so far they have raised £1694! Monetary donations are equally essential to help cover the warehouse rental costs and to bulk buy items which the foodbank is running low on.
The Future of the Foodbank
Before the pandemic, it was estimated that the foodbank was expanding by a frightening 38% a year, but this figure is likely to be even higher in light of COVID-19. Usually the summer months are when the foodbank demand is greatest (last August we helped 1098 people) as children who usually receive free-school meals are no longer able to receive them. Thanks to Marcus Rashford’s campaign, the government have made a U-turn and the free-school meal voucher scheme will now be continuing throughout the summer holidays, but it is likely that the demand for the foodbank will remain high. As well as food, the foodbank also provides a toiletries pack with the first parcel, and subsequently these are given out on a monthly basis if the referral is renewed. It is estimated that 1 in 10 girls in the UK cannot afford to buy menstrual products, and so the foodbank will also be instrumental in ensuring girls do not skip school when they reopen as a result of period poverty, as well as tackling food hunger.
What can you do to help?
Your time is an equally valuable donation so you may also want to consider volunteering for a foodbank or similar organisation. Despite it sometimes being emotionally harrowing or crazily busy (e.g. on one Friday we packed 117 parcels all before 2pm, 40 of which were for families from one primary school alone!), I have found the experience of volunteering incredibly rewarding, and would highly recommend it. If you live in South Bucks you may want to become a ‘Street Hero’, more information about which is available on the One Can Trust Website.
In my view, the most wonderful and inspiring thing about the One Can Trust is that both during and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, all parts of the community are coming together to achieve a common goal – to end food poverty. From local churches and mosques driving food collections and providing care packages for volunteers, to supermarkets and local businesses donating food, to other charities donating money or referring clients, to the local media (e.g. the Wycombe Sound radio) raising awareness, and even the Wycombe Wanderers football team encouraging people to get involved, all aspects of the community are united in the fight against hunger, and are committed to making a difference to vulnerable people during lockdown and beyond.
To end this article, I think perhaps the work of the One Can Trust is best summed up in some testimonials from the people in the community it serves. These stories are taken from people who have been helped both prior to and during the COVID-19 crisis….
Lee (name changed) came to the UK from Portugal when he was 6 years old. He is married and has four children aged 11-21. Lee was made redundant, became depressed and built up debts. In desperation he got in with the wrong people, became a delivery driver for them, and served a 5 year sentence for possession of drugs. After his sentence, Lees immigration status was investigated, and he was unable to work for over a year. His family were barely surviving, his wife had serious health issues. The One Can support ensured his children and wife were fed (he would go without to make the food go further). Lee always came on his own to One Can as his humiliation was too deep to bring his family with him.
I would walk around with Lee when he was selecting food. His wife would insist he only pick up healthy foods, he told me she was so happy when one week One Can had fresh onions, tomatoes and pineapples donated as his wife made a chickpea curry with rice and fruit salad which fed them all for two days. Lee bravely told his story in front of 60 One Can volunteers recently and thanked them profusely for helping them survive during those very dark times. His family was with him, they all quietly wept whilst he told his story. Lee is now working again, and he regularly volunteers with his daughter Lucy at the foodbank. In the last couple of weeks, Lee and his family gave us a very large cash donation to help with the Covid crisis.
“Thanks so much for my food parcel, it really means a lot. I suffer from anxiety and also not been working so this has really helped me through these hard times. I appreciate so much what you have done for me”
We recently met Peter who has been successfully recovering from substance abuse for the last two years. When one of the trustees was talking to him she asked “how do you manage to cook your food Peter?” His reply was “well in my kettle of course” as though it was the most natural thing in the world to do. He explained that he has £10 a week for his energy bills and to keep himself warm. If he uses his cooker hob or oven or turns on his refrigerator the whole £10 is gone and he cannot keep himself warm. He told the trustee with pride that he knew how to make a Sunday roast but that was far beyond the means that Peter has at the present time. Peter’s marriage broke down during his substance abuse but he still gets to see his teenage daughter once a week for a few hours. He would keep back some of his 4 day food parcel and go hungry so he could provide her with pasta with a tomato sauce all cooked in his kettle.
The trustee encouraged him to try and find a second hand slow cooker in a charity shop, and explained all the ways he could make meals with it using the cans of food One Can trust supplied. She explained to him how to chop up the fresh vegetables supplied and add them to the pot so they cook properly. A couple of weeks later Peter came up to the same trustee with a huge smile on his face. He told her how he had got a slow cooker, and had made a whole meal in it for when his daughter visited. He said he felt so proud to see the surprise on her face when his daughter smelled the home cooked food as she walked in and that her Dad had actually made it…
“This is just to say thank you to all the donors, the administrators and volunteers at the One Can food bank for all the support with the food parcel I have received for about a year no. It has really helped me remain focused and positive while working at a change of status for me. My thanks is not complete if I fail to mention those who offered their time, service and cars to ensure that food parcels get delivered to our homes. Thank you all.”
Last summer we hit 35°C one day on a very busy afternoon food bank opening at Wesley church. One of our volunteers noticed a client wearing a very heavy leather jacket. She made a comment to him as he passed saying “Hello, you must be boiling in that jacket?” He replied in a quiet voice that she almost didn’t hear. “It was chilly when I left home”. The volunteer reflected on his words surrounded by the noise of the busy food bank. When he was having a cup of tea, she sat down with him and asked, “what time did you leave home?” He said very quietly very early this morning, it takes me 5 hours to walk to High Wycombe from Chinnor and 6 hours to walk back because his plastic bags kept breaking and all the cans roll into the gutter”. The volunteer went to her car and gave him her sturdy woven shopping bags for his food, so at least that week his cans didn’t roll into gutter whilst he was walking home.
The One Can Trust is working to achieve: