Bognor Regis Foodbank: Helping people in need in the midst of a pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic and its related lockdowns have put a strain on the Bognor Regis Foodbank which has been long providing an important service to the community.
Mandy Riley, Bognor Regis Foodbank co-ordinator, explained the importance of making sure that donated food is not contaminated when handed out to people in need.
She said: "The foodbank has a COVID-19 risk assessment system whereby all of the donated food is sorted out and sent to storage on Wednesday, not touched again until the following Tuesday, and then put on bags ready to be distributed on the Friday of the same week.
"The staff wear face masks and gloves and sanitise their hands regularly."
Due to the pandemic, members of the public are no longer allowed inside the foodbank’s buildings, and the food is donated to the people in need outside.
The pandemic has made things very difficult, as the building for donations is small, and not suitable for social distancing.
Mandy added: “Fortunately, a local church assists the foodbank with allowing to use the premises for distribution. We have also partnered up with another organisation who owns a van to allow the foodbank to have a limited delivery function."
Surprisingly, the number of people who went to the foodbank in 2020 was less than in previous years.
Mandy explained:" The foodbank continues to suffer from a public stigma; people who come for help and assistance are embarrassed and extremely uncomfortable to be seen queuing in
front of a foodbank building by both their friends and acquaintances."
To limit this problem, the foodbank has set up an appointment system where people can book a time slot when they need to go to the foodbank’s outdoor table, so that they can
collect their food parcels as quickly and discreetly as possible.
Due to social distancing requirements, the foodbank is no longer able to offer a chat over a cup of tea and/or a free meal when meeting their clients.
However, they keep in touch with regular clients through dedicated and confidential Facebook groups and chats.
When asked about which products have been donated the most this year, Mandy said: “People have donated so much pasta as it was running low on supermarket shelves due to panic buying.
"However, we now have too much pasta and we would invite to donate other necessary products, such as fruit juice, rice pudding, tinned pudding, tinned pasta and ravioli, biscuits.”
The provision of fresh food at foodbanks in general needs to be expanded; this implies the use of fridges and related issues, but the nutritional quality of the food would be improved
At the beginning of the pandemic, the foodbank lost 90 per cent of the volunteers who could no longer work for the bank due to self-isolation, lockdowns, and protecting themselves and their families from exposure.
However, many new individuals offered to help and were very flexible to assist the foodbank in periods of high demand.
Mandy and the volunteers miss the physical interactions that they had with the clients before Covid-19 appeared. They particularly miss talking with them and listening to their stories and experiences.
Hopefully, the pandemic will be over before the end of 2021, so the foodbank will be able to resume all the activities as before and to provide all the support that it used to give.