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‘People’s lives have collapsed’: Foodbank volunteers tell of shock

PUBLISHED: 12:54 16 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:38 16 May 2020

Andy and Maggie Brooks have volunteered for years but never at a foodbank. Picture: Ruth Lawes

Andy and Maggie Brooks have volunteered for years but never at a foodbank. Picture: Ruth Lawes

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Volunteers who are working tirelessly at a foodbank during coronavirus have told of their shock and sadness at how many people are needing their parcels.

Ollie Sinha, 16, with his father, Chris, are delivering food parcels in the Norwich area. Picture: Ruth LawesOllie Sinha, 16, with his father, Chris, are delivering food parcels in the Norwich area. Picture: Ruth Lawes

Norwich Foodbank has been forced to change its way of working since coronavirus, remodelling operations and bringing in new volunteer roles.

Before, people who used foodbanks would collect parcels from one of 10 distribution centres across the county, but now the foodbank is delivering around 50 parcels daily directly to people’s doors six days a week.

Volunteers at Norwich foodbank have adapted to a new system during coronavirus. Picture: Ruth LawesVolunteers at Norwich foodbank have adapted to a new system during coronavirus. Picture: Ruth Lawes

Up to 15 volunteers would assemble these parcels in the warehouse, which has now been reduced to four at a time due to social-distancing, while new roles, route planners and drivers, have also been set to work.

The change has been eye-opening for Judy Jones, a retired teacher and school counsellor from Old Costessey, who is approaching her sixth year volunteering at the foodbank.

Volunteers at Norwich foodbank pack food parcels, more families are recieving parcels than before coronavirus. Picture: Ruth LawesVolunteers at Norwich foodbank pack food parcels, more families are recieving parcels than before coronavirus. Picture: Ruth Lawes

She said: “It is eye-opening to see where people live as we’re driving directly for the first time. I met a woman in tears who told me she thought she would never need to use a foodbank.”

The people receiving food parcels has also taken Steve Pyne, a volunteer driver who signed up just before the start of the pandemic, by surprise at times.

The 54-year-old said: “I’ve driven up to nice looking house with cars and wondered why they were using a foodbank and then been told that people’s lives have just collapsed unexpectedly and completely. There are also lots of people who have just fallen through the gaps and have not been supported by anyone.”

The experience has been humbling for Mr Pyne, who added: “I’ve learnt to not be judgemental. Losing everything could happen to anyone.”

Ollie Sinha, from Norwich, who has never volunteered before, was doing a shift on the day of his 16th birthday.

He was shocked by the number of people who were in need and vowed to continue volunteering in the future.

For retired couple Andy and Maggie Brooks, both in their 60s, who have volunteered for years elsewhere but never at a foodbank, the work has made them realise how lucky they are - and how unlucky others are.

They said: “People are in such dire straits and we wanted to help. Everyone receiving parcels has been so grateful.”

Sarah Radley, a sports teacher at Norwich School, decided to volunteer at the foodbank for the first time to lead by example to her students.

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The 31-year-old said: “As a school we are always encouraging people to help others so this is what I’m doing. “

Beforehand she said she did not know what to expect, but was struck by everyone’s hard work and by the quality of food.

Another first-time volunteer Peter Barry, a teacher at City of Norwich School, who was on his third shift in the warehouse, decided to volunteer at the foodbank because of coronavirus.

The 52-year-old said: “People are fighting in the aisles to get pasta and toilet roll which made me think about people who rely on foodbanks and how they are coping right now. I also wanted to help people who were in a desperate need.”

Dylan Read, a University of East Anglia student from Wymondham, wanted to volunteer at a foodbank as those who use foodbanks will be suffering even more due to the pandemic.

The 22-year-old said: “People who use foodbanks were vulnerable before and they are going to be hit even worse economically due to coronavirus. I felt I needed to do something to help.”

Mr Read urged others to give their time, which was echoed by every volunteer at Norwich foodbank.

He added: “If you have the ability to volunteer at a charity or with a community organisation you should do as it is important to do your bit, especially right now.”

■ For more information on how to donate to Norwich foodbank and other foodbanks across the county visit www.trusselltrust.org


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