How Bassetlaw Food Bank grappled with the pandemic as demand for food parcels more than TRIPLES

For Bassetlaw Food Bank manager Robert Garland, the perfect morning phonecall would go something like this: “Rob, don’t worry about coming into work today – or ever again.”

By Sophie Wills
Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 2:22 pm
Robert Garland, manager and assistant manager Ellen Ryan.
Robert Garland, manager and assistant manager Ellen Ryan.

That’s because in an ideal world, for him and many others, food parcels wouldn’t exist.

Yet the pandemic has only accelerated demand in the district and across the UK, with job losses and mounting debts leaving more residents than ever before struggling to feed their families.

An extraordinary year saw a ‘superhuman’ troop of 55 Bassetlaw volunteers work tirelessly to deliver more than triple the amount of parcels than before Covid-19.

Pctured are volunteers Maggie Drysdale and Father Michael Vyse.

But even as we move towards the tail end of the pandemic, the financial ripples of the last 12 months mean it’s far from over at the food bank.

“If I had my way, I wouldn’t have to hand out emergency food,” said Robert, who grabbed the reigns at the food bank in the height of lockdown last year.

“But the fact is before coronavirus, we were supplying parcels to 25 to 30 households a month.

“Last week, we calculated we had given parcels out to 279 households which equated to about 487 individuals. A third of them were children, dependents under 18.

Pictured is head of warehouse, Darren Lyons.

"The effects of the pandemic are still hitting people very hard.

"Some of them will just about to manage to keep their head above water and then their car will break down, or their fridge will stop working, or their pet will fall ill and a vets’ bill will come in. It leaves them with no choice but to use up their food budget.

"Then you have to factor in other items people desperately need like pet food or hygiene products- a bar of soap, shampoo, sanitary towels, deodorant, washing up liquid and disinfectant.

“It’s so great we can step in, but of course this shouldn’t have to happen. It’s been an emotional journey, and some days I’ve been reduced to tears.”

Pictured is volunteer Lynn Collins.

But with the pandemic came a surge in community spirit, the extent of which Bassetlaw probably hasn’t seen since wartime.

“The people of Bassetlaw, I have to say, have been absolutely phenomenal in supporting us when we need it most – and they never look for any praise or thanks,” added Robert.

"Small villages such as Misson, Carlton-in-Lindrick and Misterton as well as churches dotted around the district collect products every week to send to us.

Some of the team at Bassetlaw Food Bank, picture includes events and marketing volunteer Louise Gladwin, assistant manager Ellen Ryan, voluteers Lynn Collins and Father Michael Vyse, manager Robert Garland, head of warehouse Darren Lyons and volunteer Maggie Drysdale.

"Many supermarkets have community champions now who have gone above and beyond to help. People are definitely looking out for each other more.”

The pandemic has also allowed the food bank to form lasting relationships with local organisations after Covid-19 regulations forced an overhaul of the its logistics and operations.

"Social distancing meant that not only were our hubs in Retford and Worksop too small for volunteers to work in safely, but people couldn’t really come and pick their parcels up like normal, espcially those who were shielding or unwell.

"Fortunately CSL (Centre for Sport and Learning) stepped in and offered us the community hall in Manton to use as an alternative.

"Working with Bassetlaw Community and Voluntary Service, we developed a team of volunteers who now deliver the parcels out.

"And thanks to Bassetlaw District Council the process in order to get a parcel has been transformed – the referrals used to be paper-based, quite clunky and could take a while, but now the council has become a point of contact where if people ring them before 2pm we can get food out to them the very same day.

"The council will take details, meaning we can tailor the parcel to the family or individual.

"We’ve even started a subsidised fruit and veg box with the help of Priory Fruit and Veg, who have been amazing.

"It only costs £3 and makes a world of difference in promoting healthy eating.

“These sorts of projects have been truly inspiring. But more than anyone it’s the volunteers who make it, they’re superhuman. The food bank wouldn’t exist without them.”

So, what can residents do to help and keep the food bank running all year round, pandemic or nto?

"It’s definitely still the case, as in recent years, where we get an influx of donations around Christmas and Easter, but then they tend to dwindle as we move into summer,” Robert said.

"It’s only to be expected as people live their lives in a cyclical pattern, but we really do need donations throughout the year, even if it’s just one item per shop.

"We’ve upped our website game and also increased our presence on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

"These platforms have allowed us to post lists of things we’re running out of, so I’d say to anyone wishing to donate – check the lists first, if you can.

“If you’d like to make a cash donation towards running costs such as bills, insurance and delivery, we’re always grateful for that and further details can be found on our website.

"Our volunteer numbers are currently capped due to social distancing measures, but we’re always happy to hear from anyone interested in volunteering.

"We still have our Retford and Worksop hubs which we’re currently using for storage, but we’re not sure what will happen with them in the future. We just take each month as it comes.

"Despite increased demand, the generosity and kindness of the people of Bassetlaw means I’m positive about moving forward as we head out of the pandemic.”

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The food bank is currently short on the following items: shampoo and conditioner, soap, ladies and men’s deodorant, squash, coffee, long life milk, curry sauce, sweetcorn, microwave rice, tinned corn beef, rice pudding and tinned sardines.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Sam Jackson, editor.