Tuesday, 8 October 2013


* The Greenwich Foodbank: overcoming hunger through the power of collective generousity.


[ .."My husband was an accountant. With his financial expertise, we took pains to budget carefully for retirement – we prepared our whole lives for it, and had a comfortable savings...So I wasn't prepared when we lost it all..I had two young children..I had to change my lifestyle completely – it was tough...

..Thankfully, I had my community (Church) to turn to for support. Through my involvement in church, I began learning more about food assistance programs, including (The Foodbank). I was amazed. So many people in our community were struggling – including myself, and yet, so many of us had no idea this program was available...

..I never assumed I will be on the receiving end..and I knew that it has a lot to do with my passion for continuing to give because I always want to make sure that I help someone..so that someone else can stand up and say `I can do this and with a little help, I can continue doing it for a long time'." ]*

Stories such as Judy's are common. Yet, many of us are not aware of the crisis others face when we allow ourselves to be locked away in our own little world of luxury and self-sufficiency - even when we might or might not have been, albeit partly, responsible for their suffering.

Woolwich Online picked up the vibe of the efforts of the Greenwich Foodbank and decided to do a report on it, ensuring we were open to all possibilities.

Research for the food bank report took Discovery Missions to various places - including the supermarkets around the Town Centre - to look at canned food and other edible stuff, accepted at the Foodbank.

We visited Wilkinson, Lidl, Iceland, Sainsbury's, Morrison's in Thamesmead and Co-operative and Iceland stores in Plumstead.

Unlike some places where individuals set up private foodbank at certain times of the year, the Greenwich Foodbank network is an ongoing rapid response against hunger.

More an insurance than a bank, the network is designed in a way that those who have found themselves in a situation of feeding difficulty or crisis can draw out of it.

Woolwich Online found that services at the various outlets vary but are usually generous and satisfactory.

* Cheerful volunteers help with collection and distribution at client facing centres.

At The Salvation Army, Plumstead, for example, visitors are welcome to the table after church service every Sunday. Everyone sits around the same table to eat donated food by the members - encouraging mutual assistance and communal relationship.

At the RCCG (City of David) Church, arriving beneficiaries with food vouchers, find biscuits and drinks already served on a side table. If they came in hungry, they can start tackling their rumbling stomach while a volunteer sorts out thier voucher.

Pastor Victor of the Emmanuel Babtist Church, Thamesmead and Leutenant Guy Davies of The Salvation Army, are commendably, rapid responders to calls from people in crises.

There is also the New Wine Church, Woolwich, which ensures that even when you don't yet have a voucher, you don't get turned away.

But the Greenwich Foodbank was preceeded by the Thamesmead foodbank, which has operated since 2009. Seeded by The Trussell Trust, the Thamesmead Foodbank itself, is part of another Charity, Elim.

* Food items for donation must be either canned or packaged into durable airtight containers.

The Foodbank says their operations work in five steps:

1) Non-perishable food is donated by the public or generous organisations.

2) Volunteers sort and pack the food into emergency boxes.

3) Frontline care professionals determine who needs food and gives vouchers.

4) Vouchers are redeemed for 3 days of food at a foodbank.

5) Foodbanks take time to listen and signpost clients to further support.

The Deans of the Royal Borough of Greenwich set up The Greenwich Foodbank in response to complaints of increasing hunger and feeding crisis from families. They incorporated the operations of the Thamesmead Foodbank, in the process.

They appointed Alan Robinson to lead and build the new organisation, and Alan tells Woolwich Online that ["..the borough deans are a body that represent most of the Christian churches in Greenwich and .. provide a unified Christian voice to the community."]

* Canned items like this are accepted from donors.

For nearly one year since its commissioning, the Greenwich Foodbank has been building on the experience of The Thamesmead Foodbank, to tackle hunger crises in emergency situations in the Borough.

Located in Eltham, where The Greenwich Foodbank has a big warehouse, which serves as headquarters, the operational tasks of receiving donations, sorting, storing and packing them, ready in boxes, are carried out.

Once packed, the boxes are then distributed to about 8 disbursement( client facing centres )[sic] set up for easier access to those in need.

These distribution centres open at different times and days of the week.

The Greenwich Foodbank charactises a bank in the sense of being a pool. But in the same sense it is reflective of insurance against hunger, because those who sustain it, through generous donations are not necessarily those who take out of it. But should they find themselves in a situation where they need food, it is there for them.

Donors too have been generous to The Greenwich Foodbank.

In the past six months, the foodbank has received over 12,000kg of food and distributed a little over 9000kg say Alan Robinson. They have fed more than 1300 people in 700 households in the process, within the same period.

* Food: solution to hunger.

But who are the donors? We asked? Mr. Robinson tells us that the majority of food donations come from the Churches in Greenwich, while the rest are mostly from the general public - donated at supermarket collection events, and from schools harvest collections.

Volunteers work at the different distribution centres, on specific days - and on days when they have to go to Supermarket Collection Events or to schools harvest collections.

Supermarket Collection Events are special arrangements during which supermarkets allow volunteers from the Foodbank to come with thier lists and baskets. The Volunteers place their baskets near the tills, and as people shop, they make donations into volunteer's baskets.

So every food given out to beneficiaries experiencing food crisis have been paid for by someone somewhere.

* Emmergency Response to Hunger Crisis.

So why is a voucher necessary to obtain food from the foodbank? We asked some of the volunteers. They said that the foodbank is designed for people in crises - not to make them lazy. So people who are in a position of such need, benefit from it.

"Before, there was nothing like voucher," one volunteer told Woolwich Online. "..Foods were just given to people as they arrived".

But as the government try to guage the seriousness of the food crisis, through the Department for Works and Pensions, some controls were introduced, making the production of a voucher a necessity.

The vouchers are made available by a "network of frontline care professionals, who make the determination of who benefits from our food", says Mr. Robinson.

These professionals include GPs, Head Teachers or School Principals, The Social Services Team, The Job Centre, Church Leaders from the participating churches.

* A man eye-shops at a Supermarket.**

For those who do not have access to a voucher for some reason, all hope is not lost. As the team leader tells us "We provide emergency food for those in crisis - short term support. Users of our service who are not already linked to someone helping their long term difficulties are signposted to an agency who can provide that support.

Though a Christian initiative, The Greenwich Foodbank responds to crisis calls - from anyone within the Borough who is in need - irrespective of religious, ethnic, racial or national inclinations.

In the same way, donations are welcome from all.

Indeed, anyone can help The Greenwich Foodbank, in one or more of several ways:

A) By donating food to your foodbank;

B) By giving funds;

C) By volunteering your time;

D) By holding Fundraising events; or simply

E) by spreading the word to people who can help - even if you can't.

Support The Greenwich Foodbank today!

To donate to The Greenwich Foodbank, please contact the following or access churches where collection baskets are provided:

The Greenwich Foodbank. Email: info@churchgreenwich.org.uk or warehouse@greenwichfoodbank.co.uk.

Alan Robinson: The Greenwich Foodbank, Eltham. Email: alan@greenwichfoodbank.co.uk or by Phone: 07771 830549.

Thamesmead Foodbank: Email: thamesmeadfoodbank@inbox.com. Tel. 0203 149 5783

The Greenwich Foodbank says, "Love Thy Neighbour. Give Food!"


* Words in bracket in Judy's story above were inserted by us for clarity.

** Images: for illustrations only.


Follow us on Twitter: @woolwichonline.



We are grateful to leaders of the various churches who kindly granted us interviews and answered our questions, including, Mr. Alan Robinson (Greenwich Foodbank, Eltham); St. Peter's Catholic Church, (Woolwich); New Wine Church (Woolwich); Rev. Victor Lambert (Emmanuel Babtist Church, Thamesmead); Guy Davies (The Salvation Army, Plumstead); Rev. Gabriel Olumide,(Fresh Grace Global Christian Centre, Plumstead); RCCG - City Of David (Woolwich Dockyard)- as well as Volunteers from the respective "client facing centres" who assisted us with our research and provided insight into what they do to help the Foodbank, and how they do it. Well done guys..

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