Debbie Gee knows how to spot someone hungry.
“It’s in their eyes, the way they look and stare at the food,” she said.
Food bank trustees are well trained in how to tactfully set someone aside and offer them a hot meal.
“Then they tell you it’s the first time they’ve eaten since the day before.”
FoodShare Maidenhead has supported families for 12 years, but it is facing the dual threat of eviction from its premises and a drop in donations, albeit in the midst of preparing for Christmas. , the volunteers remained undaunted.
Besides the food bank – called FoodHub – the group runs a small area that delivers meals to the homeless, and the FoodShare Shop, a social enterprise that allows people to buy items at discounted prices high.
Millions of starving families will turn to food banks this Christmas, amid one of the toughest recessions in modern history.
“We are all two paychecks from the food bank,” Debbie said.
Is corned beef a luxury?
As Debbie gathered the volunteers for their Wednesday night session, a man walked through the door with a £670 donation, which included a small mountain of crisps.
“I was with my family on Saturday and we decided we were fine but the others weren’t. So I called earlier today, asked what they needed and went to see Bookers,” he said. said – refused to be named or photographed.
While these random acts of generosity aren’t uncommon, even in times of economic crisis, Debbie said donations are down.
All who arrive on December 23 should leave with enough food for a feast – from meat pies and puddings to fresh meat, potatoes and vegetables.
But half of the shelves containing items for the Christmas packages were empty.
Debbie said: “I know when I look at this, I just don’t have enough for the people who need it this Christmas.
The group began planning for contingency plans if enough holiday food was not donated: Is salt beef considered a luxury, one volunteer asked. Can canned salmon be used instead?
Food doesn’t need much cooking
Volunteer Ali Griffin spent the week preparing 62 microwaveable Christmas dinners after the team began to notice people taking in less food to cook.
“One week, we have free chicken for everyone, and I said to one woman, have you got a chicken? She told me she didn’t have the energy to cook it,” she said. speak.
After successfully cooking 30 meals last year, Ali has stepped up efforts, despite the impact on her own energy bill.
“My oven’s been open all day – but that’s okay, I can afford it.”
Volunteers have also put together packages of foods that require less cooking – such as salad cream, canned potatoes and sweet corn – to bring culinary inspiration to those struggling.
Debbie said they will be keeping an eye on families who choose multiple boxes of cereal: “We want to give them healthier options.”
Likewise, the team found a lot of the world’s foods were left behind.
“A lot of times, people don’t choose certain foods because they don’t know how to cook them,” says Debbie, pointing to packages labeled ‘Thai’, ‘Indian’ and ‘Mexican’.
“So we put the items together for them.”
A ‘lot of new faces’
While the volunteers tried to get to know everyone who visited the food centre, Debbie said they saw “a lot of new faces” amid the cost of living crisis.
“Single people are the ones who suffer the most,” she said.
“There’s no one to share the bills and for those in their 30s, they don’t qualify for a lot of support. They’re paying for it all themselves.”
Along with FoodHub, which delivers emergency parcels to people in crisis, the team that runs the FoodShare store opened in June of this year.
The store charges a membership fee of £5 per person and £10 per family, with people able to choose between 13 and 19 more premium items (more premium if they are a family) from the stores. Shelves.
“This is the future of food banks,” said Lester Tanner, trustee.
“It’s much more dignified.
“This is reaching people who would never use a food bank.”
And for the first time, many of them are working full-time. Among the people Lester saw were an ambulance worker and a school support worker.
Threats of deportation
The independent food bank is based in Maidenhead’s Nicholson Center, which is about to be demolished – and they will soon receive 21 days’ notice to find a new home and hopefully permanent.
Currently housed in an old Tesco unit, much of the food remains stacked in bins until the last second before being put on shelves for people to pick.
Debbie said they wouldn’t unpack properly because the charity could be forced to move immediately.
But until the hammer came down, the volunteers kept working – and for Debbie, that even included Christmas Day.
“I don’t officially have to open,” she said.
“But I can’t just sit at home eating Christmas dinner knowing that there are people hungry.”
Last year, she came to unlock the door and give the waiting people hot chocolate and snacks.
“It’s a very small thing – a box of Christmas chocolates – but it is enough to make them feel loved and respected and that’s what we want for them.”