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What I learnt as a food bank volunteer

Terry Walker, 45, is a drugs counsellor. Reliable, decent and hard working. He is more a giver than a taker, often engaging in voluntary work and helping out worthy causes. Today I met Terry for the first time, his mood was low, he was tearful, indecisive and suicidal. This has resulted in him losing his job and, due to changing government policies, he finds himself unable to claim benefits. Feeling confused and not knowing where to turn next, Terry is one of many people that seek support from St Ann’s Advice Centre in Nottingham. Founded over 20 years ago with the mission to provide support to the local community, the centre has become a vital support network to individuals like Terry. 

Having experienced a number of people coming to the advice centre who were not able to support themselves, the organisation applied for a donation from the Heart of Experian Charity Fund so it could distribute food parcels to those that needed it the most. 

As with all  donation requests, the issue of sustainability was raised – What would happen when the money ran out? This was when the idea of creating a social enterprise was born. Using a donation of £5000, the food store opened its doors in December 2012, immediately supporting the three families that came to them.  Rapidly growing over the last 18 months, they have continued to support the community and now provide food to around 50-60 people each week.

Thanks to programmes like Benefit Street, there is a certain perception of benefit claimants and this also extends to people that use  projects like this in their own communities.  Getting the opportunity to spend the day with the team in St Ann’s really opened my eyes to the realities of what these projects are all about and who they are helping.  The sad truth is in modern society many people are suffering the same misfortunes as Terry and these projects are an invaluable tool for people to survive in less fortunate times.

Running a project of this scale isn’t straightforward though.  St Ann’s Food Store relies on fundraising and support from local businesses to provide them with donations.“We are firefighting all the time and need the support” said Steph Hagen, food store Co-ordinator.

Speaking to Steph, it is clear that her motivation to support people within the community comes from her own experiences in life.  Steph understands what it is like to be in Terry’s shoes and this is the reason why each case is treated on a very personal level.  Although Terry’s case is not fully resolved, he is given hope that things will get better for him.  Dejection turns to joy and this is testament to the amazing work that is done on a daily basis.  You don’t need to look far to see the appreciation from the community.  Over the course of my visit several people came into the centre, not seeking support, but to merely say thank you.

I feel proud to work for a business that takes corporate and social responsibility so seriously and provides crucial funding and support to services like this to ensure they can continue to exist.

I urge businesses across the country to seek out local projects like this to see how they can help.  You might not be able to change the entire world, but as I witnessed, giving a little can change a small part of it for someone.

Joseph Green is an operations team manager at Experian