It’s definitely not a simple life being the manager of Caernarfon Foodbank. Here’s an account of my day last Friday when a major collection at Tesco coincided with our distribution day. It was my first time in charge of a collection and I was terrified!
7:00 AM Get up after a restless night worrying if today’s major food collection at Tesco in Bangor and Caernarfon will go smoothly. Would the volunteers turn up? Would people donate anything?
8:15 AM Frantic phone call from Caernarfon to say they have no leaflets in English. At our request, Tesco produced Welsh language leaflets but apparently there were none in English! I told them to use the supply of last year’s leaflets I had left them in case of emergency.
8:30 AM Arrive at Tesco Bangor to set up for the food collection organised by the Trussell Trust at all major branches of Tescos. Staff were ready for us and we were quickly set up. First job was to sort out out the leaflets to be handed to customers showing the items we would like them to buy and donate. To my horror, when I opened the boxes, we also appeared to have only Welsh language leaflets. On digging through the boxes we found about 10% were in English so we were able to start the collection.
9:30 AM Left Bangor for Caernarfon to discover on arrival that almost none of the promised promotional material had been located. Fortunately, an extensive search by a wonderful Manager produced everything we needed other than English leaflets! All our volunteers had shown up and we were doing well.
10.00 AM A couple of kind elderly people had cleared their cupboards at home and donated two carrier bags of food, the oldest item was ‘Best before December 2001′ and the most recent item had expired over a year ago. Sigh.
11.30 AM I left Caernarfon Tesco to open the Foodbank’s distribution centre in Caernarfon which operates every Tuesday and Friday between noon and 2 PM. We describe ourselves as the world’s only Welsh speaking Foodbank, as it is unusual to hear English spoken. As a Welsh learner, my language skills are stretched to the limit, particularly when clients speak in the local dialect of Cofi which I find very difficult!
12.00 PM So started one of our busiest days ever at the Foodbank as we dealt with clients from all over North West Wales. Most had benefits delays or had been sanctioned by the JobCentre. Some were simply people who were victims of the Bedroom Tax who, with no smaller properties available in the area, suddenly had to find extra money for the tax.
There were some heart-rending stories. One woman made sure her child was fed but could not afford to buy food for herself because she had to use any available cash to travel by train and bus to Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool (90 miles away) to visit her other child who had been ill for some time. We helped a woman who was now living at a women’s refuge where she had fled following domestic abuse. Some of the stories were encouraging. We were able to give a food parcel to a man who had finally found work and had been rehoused with his wife and daughter and was making a new start.
We fed a total of 42 people in the two-hour period.
2:30 PM Picked up my wife and travelled to Bangor for the last two hours of our collection. We had run out of the English leaflets supplied and also of the ones from last year, but Tesco staff were magnificent and photocopied some of the precious English leaflets we kept safely.
We were overwhelmed by the generosity of the Welsh people some of whom donated whole carrier bags full of food to us, rather than a single tin or a jar of pasta sauce. Very occasionally, we encountered a belligerent person who told us that anyone on benefits was a scrounger and didn’t deserve to be fed. I simply told them about a couple of our recipients that day, like the woman who was a victim of domestic abuse and we did see some people change their opinion.
4:00 PM I joined my wife marking up the donated jars, tins and packets with their expiry date on the top in black permanent marker so we can easily make sure our stock is rotated efficiently in the store. The donations are sorted into large boxes which are then weighed and taken away to go into stock. Tesco kindly give us 30% top up of the donations which can be used to buy items which we need.
5:00 PM We finally finished collecting and handed over to Tesco staff for the final three hours. My wife and I took the opportunity to do some personal shopping and she kept sending me off to find things in the store and I continually returned sheepishly having forgotten what I left for because I was so tired!
7:00 PM Finally arrived home exhausted, exhilarated and in dire need of a gin and tonic. The only problem was that the second day of the collection was only 14 hours away. Still, that’s another day. Huge thanks to Tesco staff who were wonderfully helpful in every way and, of course, to our dedicated volunteers.