Sticks of rock are often known for the location name they were bought in: the name runs right through the centre to the very last lick! That sounds a bit like my life over the last 6 and a half years – wherever I have been and whoever I have talked to, Exeter Foodbank has run through the heart of almost everything I have said and done.
My passion has not been simply to see that people have enough food on their table; it has been to shout it from the roof tops that there are many people in the city of Exeter who are in such terrible circumstances that they can’t even afford enough food for themselves and their families.
A Foodbank isn’t simply a few people giving out some food – it’s a whole community effort! There are the shops that allow the instore food donation boxes and the people who donate finance to cover hidden costs; it’s the schools that study poverty and then act out their concern by organising food collections; it’s the local businesses who rally to collect much-needed items; it’s the volunteers who tirelessly give of their time, physical energy and emotional effort; it’s the churches who offer facilities to house our work; it’s the goodwill of a local farmer who has allowed us to use a dry secure barn to store all the food. The list is endless. For the last 6.5 years I’ve had the privilege of working with all these amazing people to help ensure that local people in crisis aren’t going hungry.
And so my days as the FB manager are coming to a close. The Foodbank has grown beyond anyone’s imagination since the early days, when we worked with 12 volunteers, 3 churches, 1 supermarket donation box and half a dozen referral agencies to feed about 12 people in a busy week. We now have 118 volunteers, and work with 10 supermarkets and over 120 referral agencies to ensure that the 80+ people who come to us each week receive the food they so urgently need.
One of the most satisfying parts of my job has been sharing the motto of the Foodbank – ‘To revive dignity and restore hope’ – with anyone who will listen. I’ve spoken in primary schools where children have begun to understand about social responsibility, in private schools where students have had their eyes opened to needs that they have personally never experienced; I’ve talked to retired professionals, the City Council, NHS professionals, countless churches, Brownies, university students, Exeter Living magazine readers, the Exeter Board, MPs and residential care homes, to name but a few.
The questions in response to these talks are always the same – ‘Why, in a city like Exeter, is there such need?’ My response is always the same – I tell the stories of the real people I have met. The single mum who managed to get a job but didn’t get paid until the end of the month; the 92 year old pensioner who had to use food money for an unexpected crisis and hadn’t had toilet paper for four days; the man who became terminally ill but wasn’t able to access benefits because he had been self –employed. These stories are just ‘the tip of the iceberg’ amongst the thousands of local people we have served who have found themselves with little or no money to buy food.
One of my favourite ways of beginning a talk is with the sentence ‘I wish I was standing here to tell you that Exeter Foodbank is closing’ – it usually creates a bit of a stir to get people’s attention! I then go on to explain that, in this day and age, Foodbanks shouldn’t be needed. It will be a great day when that need no longer exists and we can finally close our doors – but until that day comes, Exeter Foodbank will be there.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the growth, development and work of Exeter Foodbank. I leave the Foodbank proud of all that we have achieved together – and, being a Christian charity, thank God for all His provision & faithfulness through the people of Exeter and all our amazing volunteers!