Editors Amy Picknell and Harriet Martin visited the Swaythling Methodist Church Food Bank, one of many food banks under the charity Southampton City Mission, to find out how they provide food and support for local people in need.
Although the entrance was hard to find at first, we were eventually warmly greeted into the building by a friendly face of one of the volunteers. The set up was small and informal, and nothing like the intimidating visions I had expected of long queues of people waiting to be doled out cans of soup. Once inside, clients present their voucher and are asked various questions about their dietary requirements. One particular thing that struck me is how they cater to every individual personally; asking about their allergies, likes and dislikes, whether they have access to cooking facilities, their preference for fresh or tinned vegetables and even the ages of any children living in the house.
After the form has been filled out, it is passed on to a team of eager volunteers who pack the food packages according to the requirements whilst the client sits comfortably on a sofa, offered a cup of tea and chats to the volunteers. I loved how relaxed the atmosphere was, some clients seemed nervous as they walked in but the volunteers made sure they felt at home as soon as they set foot in the door. There is a list they follow to ensure the family gets a wide variety of food and enough of it to last them for 5 days, there are also special items such as sanitary and toiletry products, nappies, and chocolate treats etc which are also included – but it all relies on what is donated for that week by the public and local supermarkets. There is also a box in the corner of ‘help yourself’ items which are slightly past their sell by date, which people can take away with them at their discretion.
The food bank can get busy at times, packing food for various people at once; I asked one of the volunteers if they ever find themselves short of any particular food, or if there are some things which seem the most popular and she said that spaghetti hoops seem to be a big favourite! *Cue cans of spaghetti hoops arriving at the doorstep in abundance*.
But seriously… food banks rely on volunteers and donations from you, so if you can help out in your spare time or donate anything towards the local food banks in Southampton; even that random can of kidney beans or potato and leek soup that’s been sitting in your cupboard unused since the beginning of term, I promise you it is so greatly appreciated.