Some reflections on a busy year at the Foodbank.

20th December 2021

We’re growing.

From its roots in the West End of Newcastle, the foodbank has grown to embrace other parts of our proud city. It now operates six distribution centres across Newcastle, served by a central warehouse where donations are carefully sorted and food parcels prepared.

Those roots are also – literally –  growing deeper into the ground beside our centre in Benwell.  There, our community garden is now providing a wide range of veg, and some fruit, for a cooking team at the centre’s kitchen.

Demand for our services is growing too. In the 12 months to April 2021 alone, we honoured 24,100 vouchers for food. These fed approximately 56,850 people across our network of centres:  the Venerable Bede church hall, West Road and Benwell – our two principle centres – plus other distribution points in Byker, Heaton, Lemington and Walker. Many of those benefitting were over 23,000 children from families blighted by poverty.

Do the Maths

Demand for food is exceeding supply – a dilemma compounded by a double-whammy which has hit those living under hardship: soaring energy prices combined with a £20 per week cut in Universal Credit.

Over the year to April 2021, it took 310,000kg of food to fill parcels issued by our distribution centres. And while much of this food – 256,000kg – was received in donations from the public, schools, business and supermarkets, we needed to buy a further 54,000kg at a cost of £63,000. We reckon that food issued to clients was worth £542,000, valued at £1.75 per kg using the formula of The Trussell Trust, to whom we are affiliated.

How it Works

Gemma, operations manager, explains: “We receive donations primarily from the public via designated bins in supermarkets, people bringing food directly to the donation point at St James Park on matchdays and to the Foodbank itself. The donations are delivered by our van driver to our warehouse where they are weighed in, sorted by date, and stored by type.

A ‘picking list’ is then followed to make up our food parcels (for individuals, couples and families) The completed parcels are then transported to our (6) foodbank distribution centres where clients come to collect them with their referral voucher.”

A Driving Force: Volunteers

As John McCorry, chief executive of the foodbank says, the contribution of volunteers is “immeasurable.” While many of our volunteers were forced to shield from Covid, others continued working for us – ensuring the charity kept its doors open during the testing period of ‘lockdown’. “We are grateful for their compassion, commitment and contribution to all aspects of our services,” he says.

Just let facts and figures tell the story: over the year, 78 people provided 14,300 hours of their time, making an estimated ‘in kind’ contribution of £124,000. As John says: “Their volunteering is essential to the delivery of our services.”

Garden to Kitchen and Table

The kitchen team reopened the kitchen again at the beginning of June but – they tell us – “in a very different format than before.” Pre-Covid the team produced 100-plus hot meals for clients on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Now, thanks to donations, they prepare scores of takeaway main courses, with puddings.

Packed and cooked on Monday, the meals are given out on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, fresh and then frozen with reheating instructions, ingredients and allergens stated.  A few examples: sausages in onion gravy, shepherds pie, chicken casserole, beef lasagne and an old favourite, corned beef pie. Lots of nice puds too: sticky toffee pudding, with chocolate sauce, fruit crumbles – naturally – with custard.

“It’s been a great team effort, and not without challenges, but the feedback from clients has been heart-warming,” the team report. Over the past 25 weeks alone, they’ve produced 1250 main courses plus puddings. And in the run-up to December 25, they’re planning 300 Christmas dinners, plus puddings for clients. This will include 60 meals for both vegetarian and halal clients.

Note of Sadness

Much of that produce in the kitchen garden was planned and nurtured by our wonderful colleague, Laurie Vest – a founder member of the garden team – who sadly died in October after a long illness. As Barbara, an inspiration behind the garden, recalls: “Laurie loved gardening and brought such warmth and good humour to this and everything else he did. He’ll be missed terribly”

Food for Thought

The Foodbank remains a safety-net for those in our city struggling to pay household bills and buy food for their families.  Their plight being made all the worse by the financial challenges brought about by the Pandemic, which arguably has a disproportionate impact on poorer people. Yet in the midst of such hardship, we have witnessed a city united in concern for the wellbeing of their neighbours.

It is this kindness and generosity of spirit which make it possible for us to sustain our services for so many people.  We are truly grateful for your support to help us reduce food insecurity and tackle the scourge of poverty in our city.

Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings from everyone at Newcastle West End Foodbank and our sincere thanks for all your help throughout the year.

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