How do you run a food bank in a pandemic? Here are 6 steps we’ve taken

Bernadette Askins, from our North East group, reports on what the Coronavirus outbreak has meant for the Key 2 Life Foodbank in South Tyneside

Things are changing very quickly from day to day and we have been struggling to keep up and adapt to this fast-moving scene.

Thankfully, our co-ordinator and 25 volunteers have risen to the occasion and everyone is working hard to make sure no-one is without food. We are expecting an increase in demand as people start to run out of money while waiting for the various benefits and grants to land.

An earlier photo of some volunteers at the Key 2 Life Foodbank

Need has more than doubled

Demand for food bags increased by 110% last week and we were anxious that we wouldn’t be able to meet demand. Food supplies from supermarkets are well down and of course we cannot appeal to the churches now. However, we do have an active Facebook page and an appeal was very successful – lots of food and money donations from the wider community.

We have had new funding to buy food from South Tyneside Council and several foundations have been in touch to invite applications for grants. Plus all the donations from the public which continue to be very generous (£1000 in past 2 weeks). So, no problems with money – just finding food to purchase!

At present, it is quite difficult to obtain food as supermarkets are rationing items but things seem to be easing a little. The cash and carrys were sold out of most stuff last weekend.  Hopefully when things calm down we will be able to buy food again. In the meantime, we have received food donations from local people, businesses which have had to close and small local shops.

Community has rallied round

Our older volunteers are now self-isolating but we have been able to recruit new volunteers (including our MP and a local councillor). Also volunteers from projects that have closed have joined us. Many of our volunteers live alone and working at Key 2 Life Foodbank is very important to them. They were quite distressed at the thought we might close.

Our foodbank manager, Jo, has health issues so is working from home and most of our trustees are self-isolating. However, we were delighted to be ‘loaned’ Pauline, who would normally be running the Methodist shop in the town centre, which has temporarily closed. Pauline is working three days a week at the Foodbank to make sure protocols are followed and managing the finances. A great example of cooperation and sharing of resources! It is a big relief because otherwise we had no senior person able to actually go to the foodbank to support the volunteers. 

6 practical ways we have adapted

These are some of the ways we have responded at Key 2 Life Foodbank to the Coronavirus:

  1. We introduced strict protocols to keep the volunteers safe.
  2. We are doing deliveries for people / families who have to isolate and who have no car, so they don’t have to use public transport. Key (one of our Churches Together charities) has loaned us their van and we have several volunteer drivers.
  3. From next week we will be distributing Family Food Packs with 5 days food. These are intended for children entitled to free school meals, but we will also distribute them to families who are in financial difficulties. Families can self-refer.
  4. We have upped our game on social media with lots of good stories and suggestions of ways the community can get involved.
  5. We have put a donate button on our Facebook page.
  6. We have provided foodbank vols with a letter explaining their role, just in case they are questioned on the way to work

South Tyneside Council has set up a Hub which began operating this week. People who have no money can phone and they will be referred to the Foodbank

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