Much more than food

Date:

Last month, Blandford Food Bank celebrated ten years of supporting the community – and it is more needed than ever. Rachael Rowe reports

Blandford Food Bank manager Gail Del Pinto, Mayoress Chris, Mayor of Blandford Cllr Colin Stevens, and High Sheriff of Dorset Sibyl King

Alongside.
Together.
Courageous.
Faithworks chief executive Alistair Doxat-Purser used these, three powerful words to describe the community involved with establishing Blandford Food Bank as organisers and volunteers gathered to celebrate ten years of supporting people.
‘We started by simply giving food. But now there is a whole range of support when people come to get that food. I say alongside because although we are a food bank, you make it a place where people who come in downhearted can leave with their heads held up; where we are able to tell someone “It’s OK.”
‘And together, because so many people are taking time to collect, pack, welcome, make tea and give support. And you’re courageous because when life seems down we should not lie down and accept defeat.’

Used by thousands
Blandford Forum’s food bank started out in 2012 on an industrial estate on the edge of the town with a team of nine people. They started simply with food. For six years, the Methodist Church hosted the food bank, as the service needed to be close to the town centre. Today it is based at the United Reform Church on Whitecliff Mill Street. Manager Gail Del Pinto was one of the first volunteers and is still with the food bank. ‘Before the pandemic, we saw 900 people a year. In 2020, through the lockdowns, we had 4,300 people coming here. And this year, we have 2,000. The need is increasing. We have over 70 care organisations referring people to the food bank.
We also have a debt advisor, because so many people need help out of that downward cycle.’
The church building is a bit of a rabbit warren, with rooms leading to more space. There’s a welcome area where people can get a cup of tea and talk to a volunteer. And then there are rooms stacked with crates of tinned food, shopping trolleys piled high, and an open space. But there’s also a profound warmth, welcoming people to its heart.
The regular debt advisory team can change people’s lives by giving them help and advice to get free of owing money. That input can be critical. There are always people to listen, and there are many different reasons people need help from a food bank. For example, Victim Support works alongside the food bank team to help people affected by domestic violence.

Blandford Food bank is currently needed to support 2,000 people
Images: Rachael Rowe

Thanking the volunteers
The High Sheriff of Dorset, Sibyl King, thanked the volunteers: ‘The way you do this work with such compassion and dignity for the people is overwhelming. We all look after our own families, but you chose to look after other people as you would your own family.’
Colin and Chris Stevens, the Mayor and Mayoress of Blandford, were also at the celebration to thank the community for the work they had done and continue to do: ’The whole of Blandford has got behind this,’ said the Mayor. Chairperson of Blandford Foodbank, Brook Maccallum, said: ‘We launched in October 2012, and since then it’s been incredible. I find it humbling to think about what has been achieved in the town. The teams are incredible.’
Manager Gail Del Pinto described the work, giving powerful insights from a client’s story and how they see people in what is a terrible crisis for them. She gave an example where a lady had been supported through a challenging time with food and financial advice. ‘It takes a single dialogue to unlock that key.’
Liz Evans, Amanda Perroni, Penny Ross, Gyda Warren, Phyllis Williams and Wilma Bromilow were given long service awards at the event.

Looking forwards
They might be celebrating the last ten years, but the food bank is not standing still. There are plans for 2023 to create a shop at the rear of the church, making the best use of space. Nourish Community Shop will sell high-quality food at low prices. So, for example, a customer can get ten items for a nominal sum (£3.50 was quoted at the event). People will be able to get support and advice from a range of organisations within the central room in the building. The team is also advertising for a paid debt advisor to meet demand.
What the Blandford Food Bank has done is nothing short of remarkable. It’s also a reminder that any one of us could need it support one day.

More information on the Blandford Food Bank is here.

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