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#Time2Care about our Community

I have been volunteering with the Walton and Hersham Foodbank for over three years: the numbers of people needing to use the service have increased in that time, but never more so than since the Covid pandemic.  Since 24 March 2020 (the first day of lockdown) to the present day (28 February 2021), 1,599 food parcels were issued which fed 4,510 people (including 2,117 children).   If we compare this with the same period in the previous year, 1,187 food parcels were given out feeding 2,844 people (including 1,036 children).  These figures are extremely worrying.

Kirsty Hewens with fellow Lib Dem campaigner Alastair Sturgis preparing Food Bank deliveries

Life during the pandemic at the Walton and Hersham Foodbank

During the pandemic, the Foodbank remained open – thanks to the fantastic efforts of devoted manager, Nina Malyon, and her dedicated team of volunteers: in the warehouse; in the ‘factory’ packing up the parcels; deliverers (taking parcels to those shielding, or unable to come in person); those like myself helping out at the daily sessions; and volunteers carrying out admin tasks. It’s an amazing team effort!

Covid changes have had to be made: clients can’t come onto the premises any more (St John’s Church in Walton and St Peter’s Church in Hersham) so our ability to dispense friendly support and advice, along with refreshments, has ceased;  and instead of running through a list of food items for clients’ specific needs, we now provide pre-packed food parcels, containing all the usual food items and tailored to suit the size of the family or for an individual. Toiletries and cleaning products are also issued, along with baby supplies such as nappies and baby wipes, and pet food for those with cats and dogs.

With the advent of schemes such as Fareshare and Neighbourly, we are now able to offer some fresh bakery items, fruit and vegetables when they are made available to us. So, four mornings a week, I collect surplus food from our local supermarkets: M&S in Walton issue its surplus through the Neighbourly scheme and I collect from there on Monday mornings; Tesco Hersham (on Molesey Rd) and Tesco Walton (on Hersham Rd) use the Fareshare scheme, and I collect from there on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings.  It’s great to be able to offer to our clients some fresh food, particularly when there is a good supply of fruit and vegetables but also some real ‘treats’ such as doughnuts and croissants.

Community spirit and generosity at its best

Throughout the pandemic, the public has continued to be extremely generous with donations and we have generally been well stocked. Every now and again, if we run short of some things, a message is put out on social media asking for specific items to be donated – the response to this has been extremely heart-warming.  On top of that, some streets and individual households have organised their own collections – our network of Lib Dem campaigners have played a huge role here – and it’s so wonderful to see the generosity of spirit as well as the financial support. Alex, the curate at St John’s Church has also organised a number of donation days. In addition to that, he has provided the St John’s premises with a freezer so we are now able to give out some frozen meals alongside the food parcels which have been gratefully received and very popular.

Our unequal society

I’m very proud to be a volunteer with the Foodbank but I’m so ashamed to live in a society that requires one!

Many clients say they wouldn’t know how they would get by without our Foodbank. I’m very proud to be a volunteer with the Foodbank but I’m so ashamed to live in a society that requires one! People shouldn’t have to resort to a charity for such basic necessities and the government needs to wake up to what is happening and take responsibility for this. The benefits system is shambolic with many people being left without any income for weeks at a time. The pandemic has exacerbated financial pressures for many.

We see such a mixture of people at the Foodbank from all walks of life.  Some arrive in tears, feeling ashamed and embarrassed, very clearly never expecting to be in such a position, the shock of their situation very apparent. We have looked after a number of homeless people, evicted from their homes because they can’t meet the rent payments, some living in tents by the river in all weather, sometimes for as long as 18 months before being housed. Some stories are familiar with lots of people experiencing the same issues, such as benefit delays, debt problems and then others are very unique.  During Covid, we have seen many people who have been put on Furlough but have nothing to live on until the payments come through or it’s just not enough for food once the bills have been paid. This isn’t right.  I would love to see a time when Foodbanks are no longer needed. But the way things are going, I don’t see this being realistic anytime soon. 

Kirsty Hewens is the provisional candidate standing for Elmbridge Borough Council in the ward of Walton South. She moved to Walton in 2003 with her husband, and they have two teenage daughters.

Lib Dem campaigners have collected 1000s of items of food for our local food banks at collection points across Elmbridge during the pandemic. To find out where your local collection point is, please email hello@elmbridgelibdems.org.uk

Information on our local Foodbanks can be found here:

https://waltonhersham.foodbank.org.uk/

https://eastelmbridge.foodbank.org.uk/