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‘They’re inspirational’ – what we saw over two days on the road with Morecambe Bay Foodbank volunteers

The foodbank is working harder than it ever has before, and those on the receiving end of donations can’t thank them enough.

We meet at the new emergency foodbank hub at Salt Ayre Leisure Centre on a Tuesday morning, and the scale of the operation is immediately apparent.

There’s a huge amount of activity going on in the large gymnasium, as deliveries are received, logged and sorted, forklift trucks buzz around, drivers are given daily delivery routes, and new needs or shortages are discussed and worked out.

Volunteers are busy packing up emergency food parcels, and David Smith, Morecambe Bay Foodbank logistics manager, discusses issues with use by dates on bread and milk with foodbank manager Annette Smith.

“We’re seeing people who have never had to access the foodbank before, people saying they’ve worked all their life but are now really struggling.”

“Key workers who are struggling, self employed people with no income, vulnerable people who have no way of getting out.

“Even when this is all over there’s going to be a need on an unprecedented scale.”

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Morecambe Bay Foodbank paired up with Lancaster City Council to scale up its usual operations.

A new dedicated emergency phone line was set up in 48 hours, and a new website was online within a week.

Daily routes are worked out by satnav, which Lancaster Area Search and Rescue have been instrumental with.

We’re following foodbank volunteers Chris and Siobhan Collingwood on a daily delivery route in Morecambe.

Chris, who runs Capernwray Diving Centre near Carnforth, has been volunteering at the foodbank since November.

Due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, he’s mothballed the business and furloughed staff, and is now volunteering five and a half days per week for the foodbank.

Siobhan, who is headteacher at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School, got involved after seeing there was a shortage of certain types of food due to issues with supplies.

She has helped to coordinate the response from villages, initially in Arkholme, where foodbank collection points have been set up by residents on their driveways or outside their houses.

“Some of the people you meet really are struggling,” Chris said.

“I went out to a 92-year-old woman who hadn’t eaten for two days, and there are others who won’t answer the phone to us because they’re getting calls to repay debts.

“It’s really difficult.”

Boxes are sorted based on need, and numbers per household.

The first delivery is to a carer in Morecambe, but she is out working and her partner receives the delivery.

Next, we meet a mother and grandmother who is shielding herself and her family.

She is in cancer remission and is living with her husband, daughter and her five and six year old grandchildren.

“We’ve found it really difficult,” she said.

“With the kids being off school, bills are higher and they’re eating more.

“I’m scared but I try not to show it.

“We’re just about coping financially but it’s getting out to get the food that’s the problem.

“I really appreciate this, it’s extremely important and the volunteers are inspirational.”

A short drive away, a mother-of-five children aged 8, 5, 3, 2, and a few months chats to us from her window, as she receives enough food to feed her family for a week.

A little face smiles shyly through the glass, while her brothers bounce around in the background.

“I’m really thankful,” she said.

“It’s pretty stressful here, the kids are just fighting and arguing.

“I can’t take them all out at once to go shopping.

“I used the foodbank a couple of years ago, but a friend told me about this.

“This will see us through.

“We’re staying in.”

In Morecambe town centre, a young man receives a delivery.

The couple have just had a baby.

“I’m thankful for this,” he said.

“The people who are delivering are doing a great job, even the police are good!

“I’m a lively person and like to get out, so it’s not easy.”

Police officers are combining deliveries with reaching out to the most vulnerable, so they are able to check on their welfare as well as delivering the food.

In the West End, another man returns from a walk to receive his delivery.

“I thought this was just for disabled people,” he said.

“My boss sorted this out through the Job Centre.

“I told them not to do it, I said ‘give it to the people who need it most’, but I’m thankful for it.

“I can maybe give some of the food to my neighbours who need it.

“We just help eachother, there’s a great community spirit here.”

The next day, I meet Chris and Siobhan in Halton, where Karen Watson has collected 36 boxes of food in her High Road driveway within a week.

One former resident who now lives in a nursing home arranged a supermarket delivery to the collection point.

Karen said: “The community response has been overwhelming.

“It’s become more and more prevalent that elderly, vulnerable and isolated people are needing food and supplies and don’t have the usual support network in place with friends and family.

“People have been so generous, and we hope to keep the momentum going over the next few weeks.”

Alan Harold and Barry Green from North Lancashire and South Cumbria Community Payback are lending a hand with their two vans.

“We’re happy to help,” Alan said, “It beats sitting in front of a computer all day.”

Up the road in Caton, Mary Platts, owner of Station Garage, has also provided a drop off point for food and has been using the work van to make collections.

She said: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and people have been so generous.

“Hannah Walling and Laura McGowan have also been working hard on this.”

We drive up to Melling, where Mary Jackson has created a drop off point at her home.

“My daughter lives in Arkholme, and told me that the collections were happening, so I started one here,” she said.

“I just want to say a big thanks to everyone who has donated, let’s hope we can keep it going.”

On Wednesday, April 22, Chris and Siobhan collected around 3,200kg of food from Halton, Caton, Melling, Holme, Silverdale, Burton-in-Kendal, Carnforth, Tunstall, Wennington, Bowerham and Scotforth and, with the help of Alan and Barry, took it back to Salt Ayre in Lancaster.

It’s back breaking work. The bags of food have to be sorted into cans, packets and bottles etc, put into plastic boxes, and carried to the vans.

The donation will be turned around and sent out again within a week, and the cycle will be repeated.

On average, the foodbank is giving out around 200 12kg parcels a day.

For those at the collection points, the work starts again, as the shortages of certain items are still there.

Changes in the way people shop, and issues with supply, have left the foodbank temporarily short of certain items, including pasta, pasta sauce, cereal, tinned tomatoes, tinned meat and fish, rice pudding, tinned fruit, instant mash and baked beans.

Dog and cat food, and nappies, are also in demand.

Vulnerable people who are self-isolating, and have no friends or family nearby to help, are particularly relying on food parcel deliveries at this time.

But the community has rallied, as people host online performances for the charity, donate cash, or offer their time.

Joanna Young, chair of trustees at Morecambe Bay Foodbank, said people from all walks of life are looking for help, and anyone in need shouldn’t be afraid to ask.

Supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Co-Op and Booths all still have drop-off and collection points for donations, and people can also order extra online and donate.

Donations can also be taken to Salt Ayre Leisure Centre between 10.30am and noon daily.

Children are being encouraged to include a note and a drawing with donations which will then be sent on with parcels to bring some cheer to those in isolation.

Anyone in need can contact the Covid-19 hotline number on 01524 932001.

Other locations where people can drop off food, which will be collected by Morecambe Bay Foodbank every Wednesday, include:

Barton Road Community Centre, Barton Road, Lancaster (Tuesdays between 9.30am and 1pm, and Thursdays between 9.30am and 1pm), in the back garden behind the centre.

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