By Jo Moulton, Content Creator
Something never fails to astound me whenever I have the privilege of talking to someone who is at the heart of one of the organisations we support, and that is their infinite passion and drive for the work that they do, and their compassion for the people with whom their paths cross as a result of that work. And Rachel is no different.
Rachel is a part of a food bank based in South Devon, and it becomes quite apparent right from the off in our conversation, that food, although is the foundation of what they do, is far from the end of the story when it comes to what it is on the table for their clients.
The Dartmoor Community Kitchen Food Bank was set up in direct response to the pandemic outbreak last year. It’s not really surprising to hear, when we’re in the grip of an event that can pull anyone’s lives from underneath them, that the people who rely on their support come from a huge range of households. There are families with parents who have lost jobs, there are people with addictions, mental health issues, poor physical health, or who have separated from a partner due to domestic abuse. They meet formerly homeless people who have been housed as a result of the pandemic, and there are families who can’t access some forms of government support because of their set-up, for example grandparents who are supporting teenagers.
“Definitely the pandemic is bringing a different type of client. Somebody who has never been in a food bank before, and is absolutely mortified at the thought of it.”
Their clients either find them directly, through word of mouth or the organisation’s social media, or they are referred by one of the town’s local services, for example the schools, nursery or GP, all of which the food bank has worked incredibly hard to establish relationships with. This is when I start to understand that the food bank is far, far from being simply about a transaction involving food. In fact, the whole operation is about relationships, all born out of the desire to help. Relationships that grow and spread too, making me understand the food bank as one big multi-armed vehicle for goodwill.
For example, as well as sending referrals to the food bank, local schools also started collecting and sending food donations. The food bank also worked closely with the local Town Council to deliver food hampers over the Christmas period. Local businesses, shops and suppliers alike are contributing too – like a veg wholesaler that deposited a large donation of food on their doorstop and left without needing a word of thanks or acknowledgement. Or the local butcher, who took enormous pride in being able to offer discounted meat for the Christmas hampers. Or the person who contributed Christmas trees that the food bank rehomed, with decorations, to six local families.
“It might sound like it was an unnecessary thing but it made a huge difference to families. For one family that had just moved in, they’d been homeless for quite some, it was the relief. She told me ‘I didn’t know how I was going to do this for my family, and now I have this beautiful tree.”
It feels like a culture of giving that has been cultivated by the creation of this incredible food bank and the incredible driving force behind it.
And that force is the people that ultimately care about the individuals they support. I know this, because despite calling Rachel up for a chat about her work distributing food to families, food is one of the last things to come up.
She tells me:
“We speak with people and quickly identify actually, what some of the issues are. Because obviously food is just the tip of the iceberg isn’t it? That’s the immediate need.”
“We did have one family that had moved in and they had medical needs but hadn’t registered with the GP surgery – so we helped them with that. Whatever referral we get, we always make sure that people are connected to the right places.”
Rachel tells me about a man they support who had talked to her about running out of alcohol and going through a difficult time. She contacted AA for advice and as a result found a way to help him find his way to them.
Passing on referrals is not all.
“I recently helped girl with her Universal Credit calculations. I was able to support her straightaway, whereas an investigation might have taken several weeks. I think it helped having somebody there, that she could talk to, going through that process with her.”
Sometimes the delivery of food into someone’s home can be a vital insight for Rachel and her team into the way a person is living. It is testament to a trusted relationship indeed that they are invited to step inside and be exposed to what in what some cases can be a stark insight into a really difficult way of life.
“We brought the food into one man’s flat. We don’t usually do it but if there’s two of us I will sometimes just check. He didn’t have a fridge, a freezer or any way of cooking so we had to put an appeal out and we got him a cooker, we got him a washing machine and all those things.”
“One ex-homeless man had moved into a flat and didn’t have a single stick of furniture except a broken sofa that a very helpful neighbour downstairs was going to take to the tip but had given to him instead.”
All of this extra on the part of the Dartmoor Community Kitchen Food Bank, all of this over and above, tells us why, when it comes to the actual food, that food, like people are not just people, is not just food. It has the capacity to ward off hunger, but it also can have the capacity to really nourish– promoting good health and wellbeing. And it is this extra level of care within eating that the Food Bank aspires to as well.
They have found a way, by acquiring a refrigerated van, to transport fresh produce as well as ambient, and by working with other food charities and organisations redistributing donated, re–purposed or surplus food. If they receive cash donations, they really think about how they can maximise and balance the quality of food with the quantity it can buy. That’s why they are also about to embark on some work with a nutrition student to create food box ‘menu’ cards to accompany their food parcels so that their recipients can make the most of what they receive. A project that they have already started with the help of some of their volunteers.
“We’re looking to create between 30-50 recipe cards. We’ve already worked together with volunteers to come up with some recipes. We want to create recipes that use solely tins and some that use fresh, working with the nutritionist to really look at how much more benefit there is in encouraging the allocation of fresh veg.”
There can be huge value in the right types of food, and that is recognised within the work we are doing at Devon Community Foundation. In December last year Dartmoor Community Kitchen Food Bank were just one organisation approved for a grant from our newly opened Community Food Programme.
£1,000 was granted to allow them to subsidise their ambient food drops to families with additional fresh produce, including veg, fruit and meat.
“When we got the £1,000 what that enabled us to do was to really up the nutritional content of our boxes to make sure that families were getting high–quality fresh veg, fruit and protein as well.
Thank you for supporting our Food Bank. We are so very grateful for the funding.”
Dartmoor Community Kitchen Food Bank, like all of the community groups and organisations I have met with so far, have one simple but amazingly powerful thing at their heart, and that is a first and foremost thought for the people they are there to support. And that in itself, is definitely food for thought.
Volunteers Sara and Abby delivering food boxes
Some of the fresh produce being redistributed by the Food Bank
Volunteer Matt with more food deliveries.
Dartmoor Community Kitchen Food Bank received a Winter Support Grant, which is part of a larger piece of work Devon Community Foundation are undertaking within our Community Food Programme:
The Winter Support Grants are supported by Devon County Council. You can find out how to apply for a Winter Support Grant here.
Find out more about our Food Network Programme here.