FareShare is the UK's longest running food redistribution charity. We were born out of the belief that no good food should go to waste, especially when people are going hungry. This belief is as central to our work now as it was when we started more than 25 years ago.
Hundreds of the charities and community groups we support across the UK operate out of churches and other places of worship. These organisations play a vital role in their local communities, just like the venues they rely on, helping vulnerable people with much needed care and support.
Church buildings offer a safe, warm and affordable location for these groups, which have limited funds, and need to make sure they spend every penny they can on the people they support.
One of the churches we work with is Marpool URC, in Heanor, Amber Valley, East Midlands. Based in an old mining town, now a market town, the relatively new church building is wheelchair friendly and has a disabled toilet with baby changing facilities and is a hub for belonging, open to the whole community. More than two thirds of the users of the premises do not belong to the congregation.
During the pandemic the church set up a Covid-19 foodbank. People receive weekly food parcels, either picked up from the church building or home-delivered. The food mainly comes from FareShare (supplemented with personal donations and a local supermarket) and is bagged up and distributed from the church building. During the last 12 months, around 2,300 parcels have been made.
One foodbank user, a young single women, said: 'The foodbank has helped me, when I have had absolutely nothing; and has taught me to make meals with little ingredients, for if I am skint in the future. I think, I will be using the service for the next few months, as I have suffered with terrible mental health and require rehab in the next upcoming months, due to alcohol addiction. Once again, I want to say thank you. I really don't know what I would do: at times it's scary and you guys really do help: just having a bit of food in the cupboard...it is a comforting feeling.'
When the churches FairShare works with were closed during lockdown, it wasn't just congregations that were affected, but also people relying on this community-based care and support. During the height of the pandemic, FareShare worked with these charities, and thousands more like them, to provide food parcels to those who otherwise would have gone without.
We wanted to help those in need
Gateway Church Foodbank, which has been supporting people in Barnsley with food parcels to help them through tough times, since 2013 was one of these.
Stephanie Aplin-Wakefield from Gateway Church Foodbank told me: "We're a church and one of our leaders had it in her heart do more than just preach, and wanted to help those that were in need – so one of those ways was to feed them. "
"Right from the beginning of the pandemic, we have stayed open. At the first lockdown it was just Pastor Mark and I running things. We had to do everything by phone and email, and we were doing deliveries. Now, we're no longer doing deliveries, as we are feeding 100-130 people per week, so there's just not enough time to deliver as well."
"We're seeing a real mixture of people, from asylum seekers, homeless people, housing association, people with mental health issues, those on probation, community midwives refer families. We're also working with organisations like Christians Against Poverty and Citizens Advice."
"We realise it's not just about feeding people, we've got to feed the mind too. So if people are struggling with their mental health, figuring out why and helping them move forward. If someone is homeless, why are they homeless? If they've lost their job or they're ill, what can we do to help? This is our future project under the umbrella, mind, body and soul."
A third example of how churches work to help local people who are struggling is Christ Church in Barnet, London.The church launched its foodbank more than eight years ago to provide much needed items to those most in need and they currently support around 15 households in the local area.
Mobilising local people
Jean Corney from the foodbank explained to me how the church can mobilise local people: "We're a parish church with a school attached and they have been very good at collecting food for us. The headmistress is very supportive, we get lovely harvest donations from them and once a term they ask what we need. The parents are also very supportive – those supplies have kept us going."
"We have also received generous support in addition from three other schools and have been delighted by support from the local Rotary group and those living in the streets around who follow our foodbank Facebook page and astound us each week with their donations."
The church has continued to provide food parcels to people throughout the pandemic, delivering direct to people at home.
"What is lovely is that you can add dignity back by giving people choices – we can say 'here's what we've had from Waitrose, what would you like?' The atmosphere is more pleasant for people coming in which is a huge bonus. Both Waitrose stores have been very supportive, and we got money through the green token collections – that was a huge boost!"
Of course, as well as churches, FairShare works with many other people and organisations ranging from banks, food companies and local authorities. But churches provide many of the spaces needed for those helping us in our work in cities, towns and villages and are supported by volunteers who know their local area well and are motivated to help those in need.
Church buildings are essential local buildings and we certainly need them so that we can continue to work in partnership with local charities and organisations helping to fight hunger in the UK.
Simon Thomson works to communicate the work of FareShare, the UK'slargest food redistribution charity, sending su rplus food from the food industry through a network of more than 10,500 charities and communitygroups across the UK.